America is in a national emergency. The COVID-19 public health crisis is showing the breaking points in our healthcare system. While everyone is feeling the pain, loss, and devastation of this pandemic, communities of color — in particular, Black Americans — are being subjected to a far greater burden.
Indiana Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box gave an update on April 10 as the state passed 300 deaths. She revealed that the Black community in our state has experienced more than 19% of the deaths from this disease while only making up less than 10% of our population. A total of 50% of Indiana’s positive cases of COVID-19 are among racial and ethnic minorities, which make up only 15% of the state’s residents.
I want to be clear that racism and inequality have been and remain to be a devastating reality in our society. In Northwest Indiana, we have seen decades of disinvestment and withdrawal of resources from Black and brown communities including the city of Gary. These years of disinvestment have led to a lack of insurance, healthcare, and healthy food in the city. This disinvestment leads in part to higher rates of infection from COVID-19 as well as other conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, which further increase the risk of death from COVID-19. The disparity in public health outcomes manifests itself in other ways, such as the fact that the maternal mortality rate for Black women in America is more than twice that of women in general.
These racial disparities in healthcare access and outcomes, to speak nothing of education, housing, and criminal justice, are an immoral stain on our country. As a candidate to be the next member of Congress from Northwest Indiana, it is my duty not only to publicly acknowledge these moral failings, but to find solutions that will resolve them. I have a plan to bring health insurance to every single American, the first step toward strengthening the healthcare system in historically-disadvantaged communities.
I support H.R. 1384, the Medicare for All Act. This law will provide health insurance to everyone. No copays, no deductibles, no prescription costs — just healthcare. This will resolve one of the primary failings of Medicaid, which is that there are a limited number of providers who accept the plan. Under Medicare for All, there will be equal, high-quality coverage for every American no matter if they live in Gary, East Chicago, or Crown Point. This will incentivize more doctors and healthcare providers to open practices in underserved communities like Gary where they will have access to a large new patient pool.
I will also work to eliminate food deserts in Northwest Indiana by supporting bills like H.R. 1717, the Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act. This will create new food systems as well as upgrade old and unhealthy food systems. Access to healthy food and healthcare will increase the quality of life in our underserved communities as well as drive a new era of investment and opportunity for those who have previously been left behind.
All of this new investment and development that we hope to see in Gary and other communities should come along with a “Community Benefits Agreement.” Like the recent CBA negotiated by Gary residents, this will be a legally binding and enforceable document guaranteeing that the community, not just outside investors, reap the benefits of their own resources. We can fight poverty and pursue justice for people of color in our district while guarding against the abuses of gentrification.
Our country has left racial disparities unsolved for far too long to the detriment of the most vulnerable. It is time that we deal with that legacy and come together for a solution. We need racial justice now.
Jim Harper is a Democratic candidate for Congress in Indiana’s 1st Congressional District. He previously served as a public defender in New Orleans and now practices law in Porter County. More information can be found at harperforindiana.com.