Economists and Educators Make Plea for Bigger COVID-19 Relief Bailout

June 23, 2020 by Tom Ramstack
U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – Economists and educators asked a congressional committee Monday for a federal bailout to help ethnic minorities who they say are hit unequally hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

They agreed widely that African Americans and Latinos are losing their jobs or falling behind in education at rates faster than the white population.

However, they did not agree on specific solutions to the problem.

“Public education is the foundation of our economy,” said John B. King, Jr., president of the Washington-based nonprofit The Education Trust.

He recommended what he called federal “stabilization funding” to strengthen kindergarten through high school education.

He also suggested expanded broadband access to help minorities who lack home computers and Internet connections. Many schools have closed and switched to more distance education to avoid COVID-19 infections.

Lawmakers on the House Education and Labor Committee generally agreed with witnesses who advocated for congressional intervention in racial inequalities from coronavirus.

Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the committee’s chairman, said the federal government can claim to effectively confront the virus only by addressing the racial inequalities the virus causes.

He said he sought “to build a recovery that benefits all communities.”

During the nationwide shutdown of schools, white students are losing an average of six months of learning while African American students lose an average of 10 months of education, Scott said.

Scott supports a bill pending in Congress that could allocate $60 billion in emergency aid to the nation’s schools. Called the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act, it was approved in the House last month.

It faces more opposition in the Republican-led Senate, where lawmakers are reluctant to saddle the economy with more debt after already passing a $2.2 trillion relief package in March. The $60 billion proposed for schools would be part of a larger $3 trillion relief fund.

The Senate is not expected to vote on its version of the HEROES Act before sometime in July.

During the hearing Monday, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., agreed that COVID-19 was unfairly hurting minorities in their employment and education but disagreed that more government funding was the answer.

She has said Congress first needs to determine whether its previous funds for education were spent effectively before spending more money.

She also said a first priority should be figuring out a strategy to “safely” reopen schools without spreading COVID-19 further.

Witnesses and congressmen also discussed how COVID-19 is depriving minorities of jobs and income at high rates.

About 40 percent of African Americans but only 17 percent of white people have suffered at least some income loss since the nationwide shutdown started early this year, according to a recent government report.

Before the shutdown, unemployment among African Americans and Latinos reached record low levels, said Avik Roy, president of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity.

Blue collar jobs and small businesses that often employ minorities have been hardest by the economic impact.

“The lockdown is driving those disparities,” Roy said.

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