This pandemic is not over yet. COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Georgia increased in July 2021, and over 30% of families in our state struggled to pay normal household expenses. However, federal legislation can help drive robust and equitable reconstruction, as long as lawmakers consider three key pillars: supporting our workforce, investing in families, and promoting healthy communities.
Georgia’s federal lawmakers will soon be deliberating in Washington, DC, on the details of a comprehensive legislative package to help Georgians get back on their feet after over a year of COVID-related crises. This moment cannot be wasted. The policies discussed could lay the foundation not only for a strong recovery, but also for a more equitable future – one in which prosperity is within reach for every Georgian.
If the legislation does not focus on colored workers, it will not be effective in helping Georgian communities through this pandemic.
Recovery rumors ignore persistent inequalities in the labor market: In May, Black Georgians’ unemployment insurance claims were 37% higher than anyone else. In order to support all workers and especially colored workers, the Georgian federal delegation should try to set guidelines for the functioning of state UI programs – for example by ensuring a minimum benefit amount and a number of weeks in which the states must provide services.
Federal lawmakers can also assist Georgia workers pursuing a degree. The cost of higher education has skyrocketed in recent years, but Georgia is one of only two countries without a needs-based aid program; Doubling the Pell Scholarship could give more students from low-income families access to higher education.
In Georgia, 132,000 white students, 49,155 black students, 22,000 Hispanic or Latin American students, and 19,000 Asian students use Pell Grants to fund college.
Legislators must also promote policies that address the income gap between people of color and help families afford what they need or build savings. Earlier this year, Congress expanded both the child tax credit and the income tax credit to put money in the pockets of families struggling to make ends meet.
The current CTC and EITC together bring 5.5 million US children above the poverty line. The CTC also supports racial justice as around 470,000 black Georgians under the age of 17 were excluded from the CTC prior to the expansion. However, neither program extends to children in families with undocumented parents, and both extensions are temporary.
If the legislature does not permanently develop these tried and tested poverty reduction tools and ensure access to immigrants, an adequate recovery will not reach the families with the greatest need for support.
Finally, legislators must consider how access to healthcare in Georgia can be improved. Heads of state have so far refused to fully expand Medicaid to include those eligible under federal law, even though the expansion would make it easier for nearly 500,000 Georgians to access insurance and bring our state an additional $ 1.4 billion to $ 1.9 billion in federal dollars. This money more than covers the state’s share of the costs – and could also help fund other programs.
Nevertheless, our state refuses to fully expand, so that too many Georgians remain in the coverage gap and cannot afford insurance. Approximately 47% of Georgians in the gap are black and 9% are Latinx. Georgia’s federal delegation must provide assistance, including ways to help our families gain insurance under the recovery laws.
Postpartum Medicaid is another way to support health for low-income families. Georgia ranks 49th among the states for maternal mortality, defined as pregnancy-related deaths that occurred during or within a year of pregnancy or childbirth; the rate for black women is 54% higher than that of white women.
Georgia has extended Medicaid postpartum treatment to six months after giving birth, and federal law allows states to temporarily extend coverage to one year after giving birth. Lawmakers should also make this extension permanent so that Georgia lawmakers can support the health outcomes of black women and others.
To fund these priorities, lawmakers must pursue sensible options to rebalance tax law. For example, Congress could ensure everyone pays their fair share by closing a loophole that allows some very wealthy people to completely avoid taxes on certain assets and making sure the IRS has the resources to do business catch the tax evasion.
We may not have an opportunity for this level of transformative change in the years to come, and we cannot risk going back to the status quo. Supporting human-centered investment can help eradicate inequalities so that every community can recover and opportunities are available to all.
Caitlin Highland is the director of strategic communications at the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, Atlanta.