December 11, 2020


NEW YORK – Today, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass (D-CA), Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus First Vice Chair Grace Meng (D-NY) and Congressional Native American Caucus Co-Chair Deb Haaland (D-NM) joined New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo to highlight health disparities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Together, they outlined the need for funding at the federal level to ensure the vaccine is equitably and effectively distributed among the communities hardest hit by this pandemic.

CHAIRMAN JEFFRIES: […] The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot of pain and suffering and death to the American people, disproportionately communities of color, immigrant communities, low income communities and throughout Indian Country. That is unacceptable, unconscionable and un-American in a country that promises life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to everyone, regardless of race, regardless of ethnicity, regardless of region, regardless of zip code. And so, we have to continue to press the case together to make sure that as the vaccines become available, they are disseminated in an equitable, efficient and effective fashion to everyone. But let the dissemination be driven by the data and the need. And we know that that in fact is going to be in communities of color, in immigrant communities and throughout Indian country. So, I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to make sure that the resources are provided here in New York state and throughout the country to make sure that this can be done. It's going to take about $8 billion to do it. The government under this administration has only provided states with about $200 million. That is barely a drop in the bucket, and we're going to work on this issue together.


CHAIR BASS: As we all know, the way COVID has impacted communities of color has been devastating. One of the things that's the most devastating is that we really don't know all of the impact because this administration has refused […] to disseminate the data. But we do know, given the underlying health conditions that our communities suffer from, that we know we are dying in certain locations. What is going to need to be done, in addition and before the dissemination of the vaccine, is really massive public education to get people to understand the virus because there has been so much misinformation put out so that people aren't comfortable taking the vaccine. So, I am behind you 100%. […] Frankly, until January 20, until we actually have national leadership that understands that there needs to be a national centralized strategy, we are going to have to fend for ourselves. And one of the things in that strategy has to be focused, concentrated [efforts] in communities of color. And so, we need to do everything we can to make sure we have state and local funding, but to make sure that we have all of the money that is needed for vaccine distribution. And we need to think of our front-line workers as being first and foremost in that line.


FIRST VICE CHAIR MENG: The CDC says that Asian Americans’ rate of hospitalization and deaths is almost one and a half times more than whites. And so, we've seen that this pandemic exacerbated already existing vulnerabilities, inequities, disparities, particularly in access to health care and including language barriers, financial obstacles, etc. We must work together, as our governor said, to ensure that immigrant and minority communities have equal access to the COVID-19 vaccine, that there is a fair, effective and equitable distribution, that communities of color know when and how to get this vaccine and there must be engagement and outreach with local grassroots groups, faith-based organizations and nonprofits to assist with getting this information out.

One of the things that I was concerned about and I was proud to partner with the governor last week, and he really led the charge in working with the Health and Human Services and the CDC director to ensure that information, private and personal information that identifies recipients of the vaccine, would not be shared unnecessarily with other agencies in the federal government.


PRE-WRITTEN REMARKS FROM CHAIRMAN CASTRO: The coronavirus crisis has also highlighted long-standing health inequities and social inequalities. Latinos are more likely to have preexisting health conditions — like diabetes, lung, and heart disease — and at the same time, we’re less likely to have health insurance and the ability to see a primary care physician. Latinos are also more likely to work in lower-paid jobs, but are essential workers such as farmworkers and meatpackers, putting them and their families at risk for workplace outbreaks and bringing the virus home to loved ones.

This disparity is deadly. Latinos are more than four times as likely to be hospitalized and more than twice as likely to die from COVID-19. We must prioritize the equitable and effective distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine for Latinos and disproportionately impacted communities. We need to fund culturally and linguistically tailored outreach and work closely with community partners who are trusted among our communities.  That means Congress needs to step up right now. In addition to direct financial assistance, Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans are holding up funding for the vaccine distribution. The American people have waited for months, and relief is long past due, but this is our moment, with vaccines ready to go, to finally crush this virus and save our communities.


CO-CHAIR HAALAND: Here's the simple truth: The federal government has failed to honor its promises to Native Americans for generations. There are places in Indian Country where there isn't running water. How can we expect folks to follow handwashing guidance without water? There's not broadband internet to ensure access to telehealth and for kids doing their homework virtually and in some places there's no electricity. Over the course of this pandemic, history repeats itself and the spotlight has been put on the disparities that have existed for far too long. The virus has ravaged our communities, and the Trump administration has once again failed to provide the resources needed to protect the health of Indian Country. For example, the Navajo Nation had infection rates higher than any state. In New Mexico, Native Americans are 11% of the population, but have been up to over half of the state's COVID-19 cases. And like my colleagues have discussed here today, American Indians and Alaskan Natives suffer disproportionately from health conditions that exacerbate COVID-19. The federal response to COVID-19 in Indian Country is unacceptable. Far too many people have died, and the White House has gone out of its way to fight against providing direct aid to Native nations. And now vaccines are here, but again, a comprehensive plan that will serve all people is missing. […] Tribes need robust information and educational investments to increase confidence, resources to make up for gaps that existed for generations and the flexibility to develop their own distribution plans.


GOVERNOR CUOMO: I believe that we will get changes to this vaccination program. I think it's important that we articulate it and we design it. If the Trump administration doesn't make the changes necessary, I believe that it is illegal, and we'll pursue that course because we don't want to get off to a bad start. And it shouldn't be that newly elected President Joe Biden is going to have to correct a mistake so early. So, we'll do it right and then we'll focus on the disparities that we learned through this COVID situation and the health care deserts and all the inequities that existed in the first place that manifested through COVID. And the agenda will be to make sure not only COVID never happens again, but we answer those inequalities once and for all. 


Video of the full press conference can be viewed here.