Policy Opportunities for States to Address Systemic Equities

Governmental programs and financial support offered during the pandemic offered states the unique opportunity to prioritize equity in their policy making to help address Covid-19 and other systemic challenges.

Reviewed by LaShyra Nolen


From hospitalizations to mortality rates, Black, Latine, and Indigenous populations were disproportionately affected by Covid-19.  These disparities reflect several other systemic inequities, such as the racial wealth gap, inadequate access to healthcare, and racial discrimination in the labor market. These inequities are rooted in historical practices and policies that excluded racially minoritized populations, especially Black people, from wealth attainment and political power. Furthermore, Covid-19 exacerbated already existing disparities among racially minoritized groups that occupy essential positions as workers at low-wage jobs,, which disproportionately exposed them to Covid-19 and in turn made them more susceptible to unemployment.

Historically, at times of economic crises, governmental leaders often cut funding for social programs and create tax cuts for the wealthy as a strategy to stimulate commercial activity. Yet, this also worsens social conditions for marginalized populations, in particular the racial wealth gap. Yet, at the peak of the pandemic in 2021, the federal government’s American Rescue Plan unprecedentedly offered state governments the opportunity to address systemically racist policies, the root cause of racial disparities caused by Covid-19.  In this paper, the authors provide an anti-racist framework for state officials to craft policies that promote equity and racial justice, in addition to insights to avoid the policy mistakes of the past.

This article was written by Cortney Sanders, Michael Leachman, and Erica Williams. Courtney Sanders is a State Policy Fellow with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Michael Leachman is Senior Vice President for State Fiscal Policy and Co-Leader of the Center’s State Fiscal Policy division at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Erica is currently the Executive Director of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute and during the time of publication was Vice President for State Fiscal Policy at CBPP.

Methods and Findings

The article’s framework centers on three principles which are outlined in detail below:

Principle #1: Target aid to those most in need due to COVID-19 and consequent economic crises.

This principle is rooted in the support of communities that have been historically marginalized and disproportionately affected by the pandemic,  which includes those who have been historically minoritized, the underinsured, the unhoused, immigrants, low-income individuals, and those currently or formerly incarcerated.  Without the appropriate communal and government support, these groups have a steeper path to recovery.   Thus,  the authors suggest the following policies to promote equitable policies to support these populations:

Build a robust outreach operation

o   Launch a public awareness campaign

o   Convene and train organizations that already help people access SNAP, Medicaid, or other supports

o   Fund organizations that are well-positioned to reach people with significant barriers to accessing support

o   Consider designing outreach efforts as part of a broader subsidized employment program

·  Use rental assistance to stop evictions

·  Serve people who otherwise would go hungry

·  Use federal funds to build a child care system that is more affordable and sustainable with a focus on equity and supporting essential workers

·  Avoid cuts in existing services for people in need and undo last year’s cuts

·  Provide premium pay (use of Fiscal Recovery Funds for up to $13 per hour in bonus pay) to essential workers (i.e. healthcare workers, sanitation workers, grocery store clerks, truck drivers) 

·  Create subsidized jobs

·  Provide unrestricted cash payments to individuals and families with limited incomes

·  Help children with  unfinished learning

·  Increase access to health coverage and services

Principle #2: Advance antiracist and equitable policies — both short and long-term — to dismantle persistent racial, ethnic, gender, and economic inequities and other barriers that non-dominant groups and identities experience. (Note: Per authors, “Non-dominant groups and identities can include Black and brown people, Indigenous people, immigrants, low-wage workers (who are often women and people of color), LGBTQ+ individuals, and families and individuals experiencing deep economic struggle, such as those who are homeless or face persistent barriers to work.”)

This principle highlights the many ways states can invest in programs and policies that support non-dominant groups that have traditionally been marginalized due to systemic racism and other structural barriers. Each of these policies emphasizes the urgency to support non-dominant groups both during and beyond the pandemic. These policy interventions include:

·  Investment in broadband, water, and sewer infrastructure projects

·  Adopt the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion

·  Make state unemployment insurance (UI) systems more inclusive

·  Adopt state-level emergency and permanent paid leave policies.

·  Boost incomes through state-earned income tax credits (EITCs) or state child tax credits.

·  Release youth from confinement and support re-entry into schools and communities while social distancing.

·  Eliminate criminal legal fees, and base fines on the ability to pay

·  Invest in high-poverty school districts.

·  Invest in higher education for those from non-dominant groups

·  Help tribal governments harmed by the pandemic.

·  Build a comprehensive support system for people with substance use disorders (SUDs).

Principle #3: Strengthen state revenue systems to sustain transformative, long-term investments in Black, Brown, Indigenous, Immigrant, and Low-Income communities.

This principle encourages states to use the temporary support of the American Rescue Plan to create new revenue funds that prioritize equity. Creating sustainable funding revenues can facilitate states embedding equity in their practices to reduce the effects of racism and other forms of inequality well beyond the pandemic. The suggested policy solutions include:

·  Raise revenue through taxation, especially from the wealthy and profitable corporations

·  Remove barriers to revenue raising, such as supermajority vote requirements

·  Roll back economic development incentives and other tax breaks for profitable corporations

·  Reform or repeal restrictions on local government revenue raising


Covid-19 has become known as the “great exacerbator” for the manner the pandemic amplified already existing inequities in our society. Governmental support through the American Rescue Plan created opportunities for states to respond to these inequities through antiracist policies that prioritize historically marginalized groups. Through the policies outlined above, states can galvanize this moment to create sustainable equity-oriented solutions that support these communities during the pandemic and beyond.


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