This pandemic is not over. Georgia’s COVID-19 cases, hospitalization and deaths increased in July and over 30% of families in our state struggled to afford usual household expenses.

But federal legislation can help advance robust and equitable recovery, as long as lawmakers consider three key pillars: supporting our workforce, investing in families and fostering healthy communities.

Georgia’s federal lawmakers are in Washington, D.C. debating details of a comprehensive legislative package meant to help Georgians get back on their feet after over a year of COVID-related crises. This moment cannot be wasted.

The policies being debated could lay the groundwork not just for a strong recovery, but for a more equitable future — one where prosperity is within reach for every Georgian.

If legislation does not center workers of color, it will not effectively help Georgia communities through this pandemic. Rumors of recovery ignore ongoing inequities in the job market: In May, Unemployment Insurance claims among Black Georgians were 37% higher than all others.

To support all workers and particularly workers of color, Georgia’s federal delegation should look to place guardrails around how state UI programs work — for example, by ensuring a minimum benefit amount and number of weeks during which states must provide benefits.

Federal lawmakers can also support Georgia workers pursuing a degree. The cost of higher education has skyrocketed in recent years, but Georgia is one of only two states with no need-based aid program.

Doubling the Pell Grant could help more students from families with low incomes access higher education. In Georgia, 132,000 white undergraduates, 49,155 Black undergraduates, 22,000 Hispanic or Latinx students and 19,000 Asian students use Pell Grants to help pay for college.

Lawmakers must also advance policies that address income disparities faced by people of color and help families afford necessities or build savings.

Earlier this year, Congress expanded both the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit to help put money back in the pockets of families struggling to make ends meet. The current CTC and EITC together lift 5.5 million U.S. children above the poverty line. The CTC also supports racial equity, as about 470,000 Black Georgians under 17 were left out of the CTC prior to the expansion.

However, neither program extends to children in families with undocumented parents, and both expansions are temporary. If lawmakers do not permanently expand these proven anti-poverty tools and ensure immigrants can access them, adequate recovery will not reach the families most in need of support.

Finally, lawmakers must consider how to foster increased access to health care in Georgia.

State leaders have thus far refused to fully expand Medicaid to those eligible under federal law, even though expansion would help nearly 500,000 Georgians access insurance and bring an additional $1.4 billion to $1.9 billion in federal dollars to our state. That money more than covers the state’s share of the cost — and could help fund other programs, too.

Still, our state is refusing full expansion, leaving too many Georgians in the coverage gap, unable to afford insurance. About 47% of Georgians in the coverage gap are Black, and 9% are Latinx. Georgia’s federal delegation must support including opportunities to help our families get insured in recovery legislation.

Another opportunity to support health lies in postpartum Medicaid for families with low incomes. Georgia ranks No. 49 among states for the rate of maternal mortality, defined as deaths related to pregnancy that occurred during or within one year of the pregnancy or birth; the rate for Black women is 54% higher than that of white women.

Georgia has extended postpartum Medicaid to six months after giving birth, and federal law temporarily allows states to extend coverage to one year after birth. Lawmakers should make that extension permanent as well so that Georgia legislators can support health outcomes of Black women and others.

To fund these priorities, lawmakers must pursue commonsense options to rebalance the tax code.

For example, Congress could ensure everyone pays their fair share by ending a loophole that allows some very wealthy people to entirely avoid paying taxes on some assets and ensuring the IRS has the resources to catch corporations that evade taxes.

We may not have an opportunity for this level of transformative change for years to come, and we cannot risk going back to the status quo. Support for people-centered investments can help address inequities so that every community can recover and opportunity can be within reach for all.

Caitlin Highland is director of strategic communications for the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute.

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