The pandemic has hit North Carolina hard, including people I love. I have watched friends, family and neighbors struggle and I know I’m not the only one. More than 11,000 North Carolinians have died from COVID and that doesn’t take into account those of us experiencing the effects of the economic crisis the mishandling of the pandemic has caused.
The impact in the Black community in North Carolina has been especially devastating. We are more likely to work in frontline jobs that don’t allow us to work from home, which has put us more at risk. We have contracted COVID-19 at a higher rate and our loved ones have died at a higher rate. We have also been more likely to lose our jobs, our small businesses, and to remain among the long-term unemployed.
The pandemic has only exacerbated the racial inequality that has long plagued our state. Black North Carolinians are much more likely to be uninsured and would disproportionately benefit from expanding Medicaid, if and when the state legislature finally agrees to do so. Maternal mortality among Black moms in North Carolina is also devastatingly high. All of these factors will have a generational impact on our lives.
North Carolina’s overall rate of maternal mortality is slightly lower than the national average, at 27.6 per 100,000 births. But, the rate is much higher for Black women in North Carolina – 56.8 deaths per 100,000 births. Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control).
Black women are also twice as likely to lose an infant to premature death. Infant mortality for black babies, defined as when a child dies before reaching her first birthday, is about two-and-a-half to three times the rate for white women. For every woman who dies, the National Institutes of Health say 70% more experience “near misses” that lead to significant short-or long-term consequences to a woman’s health.”
President Biden’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) directly addresses many of our challenges. The law will make healthcare more affordable for millions of people. It creates significant incentives for states to expand Medicaid to cover uninsured people. More than 404,000 North Carolinians could finally get coverage, including many who have been most impacted by COVID. ARP also provides North Carolina the option to extend coverage for new mothers for a full year from the current 60 day limit. More time to recover and regular care after birth give mothers and their babies a better chance for a healthy future.
All of these policies are steps in the right direction when it comes to guaranteeing more people healthcare coverage and addressing racial disparities that result in higher maternal and infant mortality for Black people. But President Biden and Congress can do a lot more.
They can make permanent the features of the ARP that make healthcare more affordable and accessible in the next package as well as make major new investments in childcare, family leave, jobs and other key economic stimulus policies that also factor into racial equity and health. To make it possible, President Biden must keep his promise to finally make the rich and corporations pay their fair share of taxes so that we can make these long-term investments to build back better for everyone, no matter what they look like or where they live.