“The situation is dire,” Rep. David Price (D – N.C.) told a virtual town hall Wednesday night. “I’m not going to sugar coat it in any way.”
The event, held by progressive group ActionNC, brought together Price, State Sen. Natalie Murdock (D-Durham) and progressive advocates to talk with North Carolinians about COVID-19, the future of the Supreme Court and what it means for health care and the Affordable Care Act.
“I can’t possibly overstate the magnitude of this loss,” Price said of the recent death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, calling her “a giant” who left a lasting impact on the law, women’s rights and voting rights.
The push by President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans to replace Ginsburg less than two months before the November election is a hypocritical “power grab” that threatens the legitimacy of the court, Price said.
It also imperils the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans hope to overturn through legal challenges.
“This November the Supreme Court will hear a case that could determine the future of the Affordable Care Act,” Price said. The outcome of that case could mean a return to patients being denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, life-time caps on coverage and the loss of coverage for millions who have come to rely on it.
The rush to replace Ginsburg and constant assaults on the ACA are indicative of “the Republican Senate becoming a graveyard for so much that the country needs,” Price said.
Price and Murdock both said lawmakers — in Washington and in Raleigh — should instead be concentrating on helping Americans during an ongoing pandemic that has already claimed 200,000 lives and devastated the economy.
“North Carolina is facing billions of dollars in revenue shortfalls over the next few years,” Murdock said. “If Congress doesn’t pass a bill with significant aid soon it will force more devastating cuts to food assistance, unemployment benefits, health coverage and other support for struggling families, just when they need help the most.”
Price agreed, saying what’s been proposed by Republicans in Congress simply won’t get the job done.
“If they stopped to take one look around, they’d see Americans are clearing food bank shelves, facing threats of eviction and receiving unemployment benefits that don’t come close to paying the bills,” Price said. “They would see small businesses forced to close their doors as demand isn’t keeping pace. Americans can’t afford to wait or suffer any longer. They need a comprehensive relief bill, similar to the Heroes Act. And they need it now.”
Alexandra Sirota, director of the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center, said direct federal aid to people, state and local government is urgently needed.
“”Bolstering state and local infrastructure with federal funds can ensure that every community has what is needed to support families and sustain a response to COVID-19 and the economic downturn until recovery is secure,” Siota said. “North Carolina can’t afford to meet needs alone. The state has already allocated all of the previously provided federal dollars and still there are too many unmet needs, like rental and food assistance. Inaction by the Senate and White House will only extend the harm for people and prolong the downturn.”
The North Carolina Budget and Tax Center is a project of the non-profit North Carolina Justice Center, of which Policy Watch is also a part.
Black and Latinx people are most impacted by the pandemic and its economic fallout, said Mary Williams-Stover, executive director of NC Council for Women & Youth Involvement.
“The COVID pandemic is impacting everyone, but it’s not impacting us all equally,” Williams-Stover said. “All the data shows women are struggling with the aftermath of the pandemic more than men and Black women, who already faced the greatest employment and health care barriers even before COVID due to pre-existing health disparities, are significantly impacted by the pandemic.”
An April report by the Budget and Tax Center found Black people are about 22 percent of the state’s population but make up 38 percent of cases and 37 percent of COVID-infection related deaths. More than 13 percent of Black women in North Carolina are uninsured, ActionNC pointed out, making them particularly vulnerable.
The numbers for Latinx people were even more grim. They make up about 10 percent of the state’s population but 46 percent of COVID cases.
Both Price and Murdock emphasized the need for the North Carolina General Assembly to expand Medicaid in the state. Their refusal to do so has prevented North Carolinians from accessing care that would otherwise be available to them even as other Republican-led states have opted for expansion, they said.
That’s particularly dangerous during a pandemic that imperils both peoples’ health and their economic stability, Price said.
“I’ve always said – and economists of all stripes will back me up on this – the danger is never doing too much,” Price said. “The danger is doing too little.”