Black leaders remind president of promises
Rep. Joyce Beatty, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, told reporters after meeting with Biden that the coronavirus was a key aspect of their conversation. She announced a vaccine campaign in partnership with the NAACP and the Urban League aimed at vaccinating residents in Black neighborhoods. “Now, are there some people who remember the Tuskegee experiment or Henrietta Lacks? All of us here remember that, but guess what? All of us here are vaccinated,” Beatty said. “We want to dispel this notion of hesitancy.”
The congresswoman said access to the vaccine is the more pressing issue for Black communities. “It is having access to it, it is needing more education and awareness, it is transportation,” she said.
The leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus also used the meeting to advocate for Shalanda Young, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, to permanently fill the position and to remind the president of several of his promises to Black voters. That includes naming the first Black woman as a Supreme Court justice and supporting legislation commissioning a study on reparations, according to The Washington Post.
The Congressional Black Caucus’s word to Biden “is wrapped in health care,” Beatty told the Post. “It is wrapped in closing the wealth gap. It is wrapped in voter rights, civil rights, reparations, and we’re looking at housing and environmental injustices,” she said.
Biden weighs in on two tragedies in Minnesota
Beatty also made a point of addressing the police shooting in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, that left Duante Wright, 20, dead on a traffic stop sparked because air freshener blocked part of his rearview mirror. “Another unarmed young black man was shot and killed,” she said, referring to Wright. Biden also made mention of the incident, calling it “that God-awful shooting” in the midst of a murder trial happening about 10 miles south of Brooklyn Center over the killing of George Floyd.
“And Lord only knows what’s happened based on what the verdict will or will not be there,” Biden said on Tuesday.
A day earlier, he tweeted: “Today I’m thinking about Daunte Wright and his family — and the pain, anger, and trauma that Black America experiences every day. While we await a full investigation, we know what we need to do to move forward: rebuild trust and ensure accountability so no one is above the law.”
President focuses on Black maternal health
As a part of Biden’s plan for Black America, he detailed common-sense approaches he looked to prioritize to reduce maternal mortality rates, which are disproportionally high for Black women. One way the president aims to accomplish this is by following California’s example. The state formed a collaborative founded at the Stanford University School of Medicine that researches reoccurring causes of maternal death and recommends strategies to reduce them.
Well, as of late, the president detailed plans to fund the initiative. He released his discretionary funding request, which lays out Biden’s funding recommendations for the annual appropriations process, on April 9. As part of that request, the president included $200 million to train healthcare providers on implicit bias and help cities place childhood development experts in pediatrician offices with high percentages of patients receiving Medicaid and federal children’s health insurance services.
The money is also intended to bolster Maternal Mortality Review Committees; expand the federal Rural Maternity and Obstetrics Management Strategies program; and create state pregnancy medical home programs, which are aimed at improving birth outcomes for especially at-risk Medicaid recipients.
The end goal is saving Black lives, and it doesn’t stop at the $200 million allocation. Biden also included in his discretionary funding request plans to:
-Increase funding for the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights by 24%, to $47.9 million, “to ensure protection of civil rights in healthcare;”
-Dedicate $340 million, an increase of 18.7%, to the Title X Family Planning program to improve access to reproductive and preventive health services and advance gender and health equity;
-Provide $6 billion for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which would be an increase from the $5.3 billion spent on the program in the 2018 fiscal year;
– Approve the First Medicaid Section 1115 Waiver to extend federal postpartum coverage to Medicaid-eligible women beyond 60 days and up to 12 months; and
– Allocate $12 million in added funding for maternal obstetrics care in rural communities
The problem the president is aiming to chip away at is vast and has affected Black women even as successful as tennis icon Serena Williams, who revealed in a 2018 CNN op-ed that she “almost died” giving birth to her daughter, Olympia. That problem is Black maternal mortality, and it was highlighted both inside White House doors and in communities of color throughout the nation last week during Black Maternal Health Week.
“Recent data show that Black women are roughly two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than non-Hispanic white women,” the White House said in its fact sheet about the president’s proposed spending. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that two out of three of these deaths are preventable.”
Harris highlighted the statistic in a video announcing Black Maternal Health Week on April 9. “I’ve heard stories from Black women who told their doctor they were experiencing pain, only to be sent away,” she said. “Women from different backgrounds, women with different education and income levels, and women who deserve to be heard and treated with dignity.”
Harris introduced two pieces of legislation—the Maternal CARE Act and Black Maternal Health Momnibus—aimed at addressing maternal health when she was a senator. She also commemorated Black Maternal Health Week on Tuesday during a roundtable that included Susan Rice, director of the Domestic Policy Council; Erica McAfee, founder of the Sisters in Loss podcast; and Heather Wilson, a mother who lost her child and went on to become a bereavement doula.
“We just need to be listened to and heard, especially when it comes to pain throughout the reproductive system,” McAfee said during the roundtable. Wilson said the number one issue she hears from mothers is “‘They’re not listening to me.'”
The White House proclaimed April 11-17 Black Maternal Health Week in what the New York Times called the White House’s “first-ever” proclamation of the sort. The goal of the proclamation is to do exactly what McAfee and Wilson advocated for—to honor the needs of Black women by encouraging the country to listen.
The proclamation reads:
In the United States of America, a person’s race should never determine their health outcomes, and pregnancy and childbirth should be safe for all. However, for far too many Black women, safety and equity have been tragically denied. America’s maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the developed world, and they are especially high among Black mothers, who die from complications related to pregnancy at roughly two to three times the rate of white, Hispanic, Asian American, and Pacific Islander women — regardless of their income or education levels. This week, I call on all Americans to recognize the importance of addressing the crisis of Black maternal mortality and morbidity in this country.
Ensuring that all women have equitable access to health care before, during, and after pregnancy is essential. The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to addressing these unacceptable disparities, and to building a health care system that delivers equity and dignity to Black, Indigenous, and other women and girls of color.
Health care is a right, not a privilege, and our country needs a health care system that works for all of us. That is something both Vice President Harris and I have fought for throughout our careers. As a Senator, Vice President Harris was a champion of Black maternal health, introducing legislation to close gaps in access to quality maternal care and educate providers about implicit bias. And during my time as Vice President, I fought for the Affordable Care Act and to strengthen Medicaid, both of which ensure access to critical services to support maternal health. Within just a few years of the Affordable Care Act’s passage, Black uninsured rates dramatically declined — a key factor in ensuring better maternal health outcomes — as did the persistent health insurance coverage gap between Black and white Americans, which fell by more than 40 percent in the wake of the law’s implementation.
As we fight to bring an end to the COVID-19 crisis, we will continue to make quality health care more accessible and affordable for all Americans, as we did through the passage of the landmark American Rescue Plan. We will also work to ensure that everyone — including hospitals, insurance plans, and health care providers — do their part to provide every American with quality, affordable, and equitable care.
Vice President Harris and I are committed to pursuing systemic policies that provide comprehensive, holistic maternal health care that is free from bias and discrimination. The morbidity and mortality disparities that Black mothers face are not the results of isolated incidents. Our Nation must root out systemic racism everywhere it exists, including by addressing unequal social determinants of health that often contribute to racial disparities such as adequate nutrition and housing, toxin-free environments, high-paying job sectors that provide paid leave, and workplaces free of harassment and discrimination.
Addressing systemic barriers across the board will improve outcomes for Black mothers and their families, and make our entire country stronger, healthier, and more prosperous. At the same time, the United States must also grow and diversify the perinatal workforce, improve how we collect data to better understand the causes of maternal death and complications from birth, and invest in community-based organizations to help reduce the glaring racial and ethnic disparities that persist in our health care system.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 11 through April 17, 2021, as Black Maternal Health Week. I call upon all Americans to raise awareness of the state of Black maternal health in the United States by understanding the consequences of systemic discrimination, recognizing the scope of this problem and the need for urgent solutions, amplifying the voices and experiences of Black women, families, and communities, and committing to building a world in which Black women do not have to fear for their safety, their wellbeing, their dignity, and their lives before, during, and after pregnancy.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirteenth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-fifth.
JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR