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Black Leaders Say Federal COVID Funds Have Passed Over Hardest-Hit Communities

Matt Rourke

At a roundtable Wednesday on racial equity in Allegheny County, panelists said federal COVID-relief funds were supposed to go to the hardest-hit communities, but the needs of Black Pennsylvanians have not been met.

In June, state Republicans voted on a budget that reserved most of a $7.2 billion federal COVID relief package in the state’s budget, directing $2.5 billion to the state’s rainy day fund and setting aside most of the rest for use in future budgets. Gov. Tom Wolf signed that budget late last month.

“These resources that have come from the federal government should be prioritized from a racial and equity lens,” said state Representative Jake Wheatley, a Hill District Democrat.

The U.S. Treasury provided guidance recommending federal COVID funds be used to address the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic in vulnerable communities, including communities of color. The new state budget directed some of the federal relief funds to support schools, people living with intellectual disabilities, and the ongoing pandemic response. But roundtable leaders say it was not enough.

“This is leaving in place the same race and class and inequities that have been increasing during the pandemic,” said Nthando Thandiwe, an analyst for the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. “An alternative path would be to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and use these federal resources to address structural inequities.”

Republican lawmakers have said holding back the federal relief funds is about fiscal responsibility, and avoiding the potential for future tax hikes.

“We are meeting the needs of Pennsylvania families, prioritizing the education of every child, protecting our most vulnerable citizens, and investing in infrastructure and jobs,” said Representative Stan Saylor, chair of House Appropriations, in a press release. “It meets these goals while placing Pennsylvania on a strong financial footing, placing historic savings in our Rainy Day Fund.”

Roundtable panelists said there are still opportunities to direct aid toward vulnerable communities of color as states, counties, and cities continue to receive and manage relief dollars.