MI Announces Rapid Response Grants to Address Racial Disparities in Pandemic

Saying that “aggressive action” has “no doubt saved thousands of lives,” Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and her Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist are citing a significant reduction in racial disparities stemming from the pandemic, even as they announce new Rapid Response Grants for local organizations to continue addressing those disparities.

The governor and lieutenant governor are today highlighting new data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services that they say shows significant progress has been made toward reducing the disparate impact COVID-19 has had on communities of color. Meanwhile, the State of Michigan has created the Rapid Response Grant program to help local organizations continue the administration’s efforts to tackle racial disparities.

Gov. Whitmer says, “The aggressive action we have taken in Michigan has no doubt saved thousands of lives, especially among our most vulnerable communities – people of color, seniors, and people with disabilities.”  She adds, “The work of the Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, spearheaded by Lieutenant Governor Gilchrist, has helped us dramatically reduce the number of African Americans who have been impacted by COVID-19. We are not out of the woods yet, and must continue to do our part to save lives and protect our brave frontline workers. The Rapid Response Grant Program will help us continue this hard work and create a blueprint that states across the country can follow to protect their most vulnerable.”

While Black residents only make up 15-percent of Michigan’s population, they represented a staggering 29.4-percent of the cases and 40.7-percent of the deaths in the early days of tracking COVID-19 data based on race. In the past two weeks of available data, the state has seen significant progress in limiting the disparate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, with Black residents accounting for 8.2-percent of cases and 9.9-percent of deaths.

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Lt. Governor Gilchrist says, “We have reason to be proud of the hard work and progress made to reduce the disparate impact of COVID-19 on Black people,” but notes, “However, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we are still in the midst of a pandemic that continues to take the lives of our friends and family. We still have work to do to tackle generations of racial disparities and inequality to ensure that all Michiganders can lead happy and healthy lives. And more than anything else we need to keep the Governor’s emergency measures in place to limit the spread of this virus, which we know causes disproportionate harm among people of color who start out in a more vulnerable position.”

The two say that under Governor Whitmer’s leadership, the administration took immediate action to tackle racial disparities through executive orders issued under the governor’s emergency powers. The administration also launched the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities to act in an advisory capacity to the governor. The task force studied the causes of racial disparities in the impact of COVID-19 and recommended actions to immediately address such disparities and the historical and systemic inequities that underlie them.

Whitmer says that the task force’s broad-based representation and collaboration with State Departments facilitated swift actions, such as:

  • Distributing large quantities of masks to the public;
  • Launching a strategic communications and social media effort targeting communities of color;
  • Collaborating with regional racial disparity task forces to share data and recommendations for additional actions;
  • Increasing access to coronavirus testing in communities of color through drive-thru, walk-up, and mobile testing sites.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Chief Medical Executive and Chief Deputy for Health at MDHHS, suggests, “Swift actions have been taken to address the health inequities that existed prior to the pandemic and were exacerbated by the virus. Access to testing and adequate resources to protect communities of color will continue to be a priority as we fight COVID-19.” She adds, “I applaud the racial disparities task force and the multiple partners on the ground who helped decrease this disparity. However, we cannot let our guard down. We must continue to take precautions including wearing masks, maintaining social distancing of at least six feet from others, washing our hands often and staying home if we are feeling ill.”

To continue the administration’s efforts to tackle racial disparities, the State of Michigan has created the Rapid Response Grant program, which has awarded 31 grants for a total of nearly $20 million of CARES funding to local organizations. The grants must be used to:

  • Address food and housing insecurity
  • Provide technology and tablets
  • Increase access to testing and flu vaccines
  • Improve contract tracing
  • Provide basic needs
  • Fund operations

To view MDHHS data on racial disparities, click the link below:

MI-Closing-COVID-19-Racial-Disparities-Gap