This post originally appeared as an op-ed in the Courier Journal November 19, 2020.
By Karina Barillas
COVID-19 has brought the health of Kentuckians into focus and reminded us that we face a collective challenge to staying healthy and accessing the health care we need. The pandemic affects us all, but affects us differently, depending on resources, meaningful access to services and information, and privilege or knowledge about navigating health care.
And, too many Kentucky children and families face systematic invisibility.
As a striking example, many people in the Latinx community did not know what was happening at the beginning of the lockdown in March. The school closures and community organizations transitioning from face-to-face services to contactless communication were not understood by many families just trying to survive. They adjusted, without comprehending the reasons for the stay at home order.
The local trusted Spanish media outlets, Al Dia en America, La Esquina and Radio Poder, were instrumental in reaching families in Louisville. Because they are a part of and understand the Latinx community, they were able to reach individuals that lack access to mainstream media.
Nonprofits supporting immigrant/Latinx communities stepped up, even without funding, not only for prevention purposes, but to strategize how best to provide services to families facing poverty, domestic violence, worries around contracting COVID, and/or families with children and youth with special care needs that needed ongoing treatment and therapies to survive.
The deeper impacts of the pandemic, as well as systemic inequities, on Latinx families are noted in the 2020 Kentucky KIDS COUNT County Data Book.
Due to multiple factors, the Latinx community has been hit especially hard by COVID-19, both on the health and economic front. Long-standing gaps in the quality of jobs means Latinx and Black workers are more likely to work in “essential” jobs with no ability to work from home, or in low-wage jobs that do not offer benefits like health insurance or sick pay. Latinx families are also more likely to live in housing with multiple generations and more people in the home, making it difficult to quarantine.
Latinx citizens and residents with legal status sometimes avoid seeking help out of fear of being profiled, discriminated against and/or stopped by officials who wrongly suspect they are undocumented. This, among other issues, has contributed to high rates of COVID cases – Latinx people make up 3 percent of the Kentucky adult population, but 10 percent of COVID cases.
Due to job loss or decreased work, two of three Latinx families with children lost income from employment during the pandemic, yet policies and practices often excluded families with any immigrant members from the assistance that so many other families have used to survive this difficult time. The Pandemic-EBT program was one support available to all Kentucky students who received meals at school, and it helped the nearly 1 in 6 Kentucky families with children who have not had enough food to eat. However, many Latinx families did not apply for fear of receiving any assistance from the government, due to language barriers, or not knowing how to apply.
Health factors impacting the Latinx community compound the challenges of identifying cases and getting needed care. Even prior to the pandemic, Latinx youth and adults in Kentucky were less likely than peers to have health insurance. Compared to 96 percent of White youth, just 91 percent of Latinx youth have health insurance. The data underestimates the gap in insurance, since systematic “invisibility” misses many Latinx people in data collection who are less likely to participate in government surveys.
A silver lining in this pandemic is that we are learning and creating new ways of being inclusive to every child in our community. We are opening the doors for best practices and expertise of organizations like La Casita and looking at different ways of “de-mainstreaming” the narrow way that services are delivered.
The gift in all of this is if EACH child in our community thrives, the WHOLE community thrives.
We can begin by closing gaps in access to health insurance and ensuring that assistance and health messaging has easy to understand information in multiple languages and formats to reach all families.
It is my hope as a Latina and as a Kentuckian, that we see each other as an important and valuable part of our state and our community. That we all start realizing the struggles of our neighbors, not to pity them, or to look down on them, but for us to be united, for a better present and future for ourselves and our children. It will be then, that we all achieve the American dream. A dream that in so many ways has been denied to a lot of children in our Commonwealth.
But today, I hope with all my heart that we accompany, honor and lift up each other, so at the end of this pandemic we can be a truly united Commonwealth. An inclusive, loving, strong and just community for every single child.
Karina Barillas is executive director of La Casita Center.