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We Don’t Want Things to Go “Back to Normal” after COVID-19

By Risa Wilkerson on April 15th, 2020

During this Covid-19 pandemic, many people are experiencing, for the first time, uncertainties that the most vulnerable communities in our society live with daily. These include worries about job security; missing housing and rent payments; accessing food, child care, health care, and quality education; and a general sense of being trapped in a situation that is beyond their control. For these communities, the outbreak exacerbates an already dire situation. It is a “crisis on top of a crisis.”

Now, more people have a first-hand understanding of just how broken and inequitable our systems are. And we are paying a high price—economically, emotionally, physically, socially, and in lost lives—for that level of awakening. So we must seize this pivotal moment as a chance to recognize our shared humanity and assume the responsibilities that come with knowledge: action and advocacy.

The pandemic has created a frantic willingness to try solutions that advocates have been demanding for decades. Within weeks, we have seen the introduction of expanded sick leave, temporary moratoriums on evictions, and coverage of some health expenses related to Covid-19. Other efforts that would have seemed un-achievable months ago are now underway to address particularly vulnerable populations:

  • California’s Project Roomkey and similar initiatives across the country are securing hotel rooms to house people who were living in crowded in shelters or on the streets and who have been exposed to Covid-19 or are medically vulnerable.
  • To slow the spread of Covid-19 in overcrowded jails and prisons, some state and local agencies are releasing people who have misdemeanor charges or have been convicted of minor crimes.
  • The CARES Act passed by Congress included billions for response in Indian Country, including for health services, resources for tribes, and the Board of Indian Affairs.
  • For families living in poverty, Congress has created needed flexibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

This pandemic did not create the inequities we are facing as a nation; instead, it has revealed the compounding crises that were already there.

These relief measures are encouraging. However, they are so urgently needed because our systems are inequitable to begin with:

All of us must work to ensure that temporary Covid-19 relief measures are preserved and improved as longer-term, comprehensive systems changes. This will not happen unless we are willing to get political, as Vu Le reminds us. Starting today, we must work with decision makers to move from a quick-fix mentality to longer-term thinking. The need for these structural changes has been growing for decades, but the increased public awareness and support for them is new.

Now is the time to create accessible and affordable health care for all, provide universal and quality child care and education, address our housing crisis, better equip our public health system to respond to current and future crises, and dismantle racism across all sectors and systems. The NAACP’s 10 Equity implications of the Coronavirus Covid-19 Outbreak in the United States offers corresponding policy recommendations that are worth a read. The United Nations has also released 17 Sustainability Development Goals that address the interconnected global challenges of poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace, and justice—goals we must achieve within 10 years.

This pandemic did not create the inequities we are facing as a nation; instead, it has revealed the compounding crises that were already there. If we don’t address those underlying problems as an integral part of our response to the outbreak, we will not only be less resilient to future pandemics and emergencies, but also miss a chance to create a new and more equitable normal.

Continuing Our Work, Together

While these are challenging times, we can still advance our missions if we all offer our skills and insights to coordinated, collective efforts. At Healthy Places by Design, for example, we are working with partners in Michigan to help SNAP-Educators integrate their unique knowledge and networks into community-level work. In addition, we are leading peer-learning initiatives that connect local change makers across the country to enhance cross-community collaboration and accelerate the replication of promising solutions, including recent conversations about adapting to the Covid-19 outbreak. Please get in touch with us so we can brainstorm ideas and share stories, building our collective response together.

Risa Wilkerson

Executive Director

Action-driven optimist, abundance thinker, and simplicity seeker.