Black American women die in childbirth at three times the rate of White women; for every death, there are 70 “near misses,” which can have long-term effects on women’s health, according to the American Journal of Managed Care. Canada does not keep race-based data on maternal mortality, but Black women in Canada have almost double the rate of pre-term births compared to White women, though pre-term births were a third lower in Canada than in the US (likely due to universal government-funded health care). Women and infants of all races were more likely to die in rural areas, and rates are significantly increasing, likely due to closures of obstetric facilities, according to a study available on Pub Med. Legislation to address these and other disparities is pending; the week following the very first Emancipation Day (in Canada) would be a good time to nag those who represent you.
1. Legislation to address the needs of vulnerable mothers–Black, veteran, incarcerated
In March, the number of Black women looking to give birth outside of a hospital setting rose, the New York Times reported. Why? The Times offers two primary reasons: racial inequities in health care and COVID-19—also related to racial inequities in health care. The U.S. has the worst rate of maternal mortality among industrialized nations, largely as a result of racial inequities that permeate our medical system. Black women are four times more likely to die giving birth than white women. In New Jersey, Black women giving birth face a risk of mortality seven times greater than that faced by white women.
The Black Maternal Momnibus Act (H.R.959 in the House; S.346 in the Senate) addresses discrepancies in healthcare for Black mothers. Among the provisions of the House version this ambitious piece of legislation are a housing for moms grant program; investments in community-based organizations addressing Black maternal outcomes and mental health; prenatal and postpartum childcare; support for veterans giving birth; grants to grow and diversify the perinatal workforce; protections for incarcerated moms; funding for data collection and analysis and studies to determine causes and solutions to the race-based differences in maternal outcomes. In the House, this legislation is with a number of committees and subcommittees: Energy and Commerce (and its Subcommittee on Health); Financial Services; Transportation and Infrastructure (and its subcommittees on Water Resources and Environment, Highways and Transit, and Coast Guard and Marine Transportation); Education and Labor; Judiciary (and its Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security); Natural Resources (and its Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples); Agriculture (and its subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Departmental Regulations); and Veterans’ Affairs (and its subcommittee on Health). The provisions of the Senate legislation are essentially similar, though differently organized in places. The Senate version is with the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. S.346 is with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. RLS/S-HP
To nudge this legislation forward, see the contact information here.
2. Legislation would support rural moms
Last November 19, to mark National Rural Health Day, the American Hospital Association (AHA) presented information on the lack of prenatal, obstetric, and postpartum care for rural mothers and on some programs being developed in response. In fact, half of all U.S. rural counties do not offer obstetric services and difficulty in recruiting and retaining healthcare workers of all types has left many current rural healthcare providers short staffed. The Rural MOMS Act (H.R.769 in the House; S.1491 in the Senate) would establish rural obstetric networks, provide demonstration grants for healthcare training on maternal health in rural areas, and incorporate maternal health into some existing telehealth networks. It would also require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on maternal health topics, including health inequities. H.R.769 is with the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where it has been assigned to the Subcommittee on Health. S.1491 has made it through the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and can now be brought before the full Senate. S-HP
If you want rural moms to have this support, help push it through the Senate.
3. Legislation to protect nursing moms
Finally, working mothers could receive support through the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act (H.R.3110 in the House; S.1658 in the Senate), which would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to provide workplace breastfeeding accommodations. This legislation has made it through committee in both houses of Congress and can now move on to full votes by the House and Senate. S-HP
You can encourage your senators and representative to move this legislation forward–see how.
4. New legislation would protect documented immigrants’ access to health care
You may remember how the Trump administration tried to keep people who applied for any kind of public benefits from applying for permanent residency status, even though they were otherwise eligible. Called the “Public Charge Rule,” it was removed after much legal wrangling, but immigrant families endured much hardship in the process, including children who were US citizens but whose families were afraid to take them to the doctor for fear of losing the right to apply for permanent residency. The HEAL for Immigrant Families Act (H.R.3149 in the House; S.1660 in the Senate) would ensure that documented immigrant families and families in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) because of conflict or disaster in their country of origin have access to Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and the various U.S. insurance “marketplaces.” Once enacted by Congress, such healthcare assistance would be more difficult to penalize or revoke. H.R.3149 is with two House committees: Energy and Commerce; and Ways and Means. S.1660 is with the Senate Finance Committee. S-HP
You can help ensure that documented immigrant families have access to health care. Information on contacting appropriate decision-makers is here.
5. Bill to pay farmworkers overtime is stalled
The National Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 instituted overtime pay for U.S. workers. However, this act was written to specifically exclude farm workers from overtime protections. Currently, no state provides overtime protections that acknowledge a 40 hour workweek for farmworkers, though California and Washington will begin doing so in 2022; even then, farmworkers will still lack protection against overtime beyond 40 hours a week in 48 states. The few states that do provide overtime protection assume a sixty-hour workweek, the Pew Trusts report. Working sixty hours a week and more impacts not only farm workers but their children, who are either home alone or are cared for by older children. The Pew Trusts note that growers say that paying overtime will bankrupt them; Maine state Rep. Thom Harnett described the situation this way, according to Pew: “There’s a great deal of empathy for that industry, and I share that,” he said. “I just don’t share putting it on the backs of the workers to be the ones who suffer the most. Because of these exceptions, we have farmworkers who have been stuck in poverty for generation after generation.”
The Fairness for Farmworkers Act, H.R.3194, would provide farm workers with overtime protections nationally, except for those on H-2A visas. Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) introduced this legislation on May 13, and it has been assigned to the House Education and Labor Committee. Unfortunately, that committee has not yet taken any action on H.R.3194. RLS/S-HP
If you think that the people who provide your food should receive overtime, you can urge swift, positive action on H.R.3194 by the House Education and Labor Committee and ask your Representative to support the Fairness for Farmworkers Act. Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), Chair, House Education and Labor Committee, 2176 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, (202) 225-3725. @BobbyScott. Find your Representative here.
6. US is about to lose the opportunity to offer 100,000 green cards to legal residents
Green cards allow individuals to live and work in the U.S., but the requirements for getting them are stringent. The Citizenship and Immigration Services site which lists eligibility categories is instructive: it includes immediate family members of citizens, but also Afghan translators, people who have been trafficked, immigrant children who have been abused by their parents, diplomats who can’t go home–and others.
The U.S. can issue 140,000 green cards each year, but in 2020 the Trump administration only issued 20,000 cards. The 120,000 unused green cards can be carried over and added to the next year’s maximum, but at the end of the extra year they are cancelled if they remain unused. As a result, this year the Biden administration had an opportunity to issue up to 260,000 green cards. However, as Cato Institue researcher David J. Bier pointed out in a Washington Post opinion piece, the administration has said it will fall short of that maximum. Because of slow processing, the U.S. will issue 100,000 fewer green cards than this year’s limit and carry-over would allow. On October 1, the carry-over will expire and those green cards will disappear.
The carry-over resulted from Trump administration policies, which barred most immigrants sponsored by family members from entering the U.S. and delayed the opening of the green card application period by six months, moving it back to October 2020 and creating a bottleneck that it left for the Biden administration to deal with. The U.S. does not have an online immigration application system, which means applications must be sent by U.S. mail, opened individually, and then have applicant data entered by hand into the system. After that part of the process is completed, the next step is fingerprinting. As Bier explains, for most individuals this fingerprinting is redundant because “nearly all employment-based applicants have lived and worked legally in the United States, many for a decade or more, with temporary residency status. This status they maintained by—you guessed it—repeatedly being fingerprinted and passing background checks.” This past year, the usual slowdown caused by the fingerprint requirement was exacerbated because Trump closed all government fingerprinting sites for months during the pandemic. S-HP
If you have looked at the eligibility requirements and think that the U.S. should not allow 100,000 green cards to expire, you can urge the President and the Secretary of Homeland Security to modify green card application processes, perhaps through en masse granting of green cards before investigations are completed, with the proviso that once investigations are completed green cards could be revoked in individual cases when appropriate: President Joe Biden, the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania NW,Washington DC 20500, (202) 456-1111. @POTUS. Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security, 3801 Nebraska Ave. NW, Washington DC 20016, (202) 282-8000. @SecMayorkas.
7. School lunches and food insecurity
As part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. instituted a universal free school meal program, which the Biden administration extended through June 2022. Congress now has the opportunity to make this program permanent through the Universal School Meals Program Act (H.R.3155 in the House; S.1530 in the Senate). H.R.3155 is currently with three House Committees: Education and Labor; Science, Space, and Technology; and Agriculture; as well as the Agriculture Committee’s subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Department Operations. S.1530 is with the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee. S-HP
If you think this program should be made permanent, urge these committees to act swiftly on this legislation, particularly in light of conditions for children living in the 13.9% of U.S. families that are food insecure.
8. Canada makes Emancipation Day official
The recognition of August 1 as Emancipation Day in Canada came just this year after years of activism. Slavery was banned in all former British colonies on August 1, 1834, though enslaved people acquired their freedom only gradually, according to the Government of Canada site. Though many parts of Canada have celebrated Emancipation Day for years, only in March of 2021 did Parliament make it official, according to the CBC. Pointing out that marking a day was only a beginning Al Jazeera quoted the Canadian Commission for UNESCO’s blog post this week: “For real progress to continue, we need more than just a tacit acknowledgement from Canadians and our government. Observing a shameful historical moment in our history is one thing. Doing something proactive to address its legacy is another.”
While US history focuses on the 30,000 enslaved people who fled the US to find freedom in Canada, simultaneously some 3,000 people from Africa were enslaved in Canada, along with 50,000 Indigenous people captured from the United States in the 1600s, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia; their average age was 14, 57% of them women and girls. RLS
SCIENCE, HEALTH, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
9. Plan on a booster–now
Laurie Garrett, the science writer who won a Pulitzer for chronicling the Ebola virus, says that we should all be getting a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is possible. As she puts it in an article for Foreign Policy, “Sure enough, the United States is again awash in virus, with the incidence of new COVID-19 cases having soared 131 percent in the third week of July.” The big danger, she says, is that unvaccinated people–a fifth of the American population–will contribute to ever-more-dangerous mutations of the virus. A few areas in Alberta, Canada, have low vaccination rates–under 40 per cent–as well, according to the CBC. Garrett acknowledges the inequity of people in privileged countries receiving a third dose when those elsewhere have not yet been able to get even one, but she says that the accelerating risks of variants mean that “in the absence of fully effective vaccination of better than 75 percent of adults, a society may act as a herd of walking petri dishes, cultivating immune-escape mutant forms of SARS-CoV-2—that is, mutants that evade existing vaccine.”
An internal CDC document obtained by the Washington Post supports Garrett’s alarm, describing “a variant so contagious that it acts almost like a different novel virus, leaping from target to target more swiftly than Ebola or the common cold.” The CDC is also unsettled by the as-yet-unpublished data which suggest that “vaccinated individuals infected with delta may be able to transmit the virus as easily as those who are unvaccinated.” We should be back in masks, the CDC says–if we ever took them off.
Meanwhile, medical workers–already worn down from working at the precipice of danger and exhaustion for a year and a half–are exasperated and furious. The AP reports on conditions in Missouri, for example, where less than half the population is vaccinated and ICUs are flooded by unvaccinated people. Many doctors and nurses are appalled at some of their own colleagues, whose refusal to get the vaccine has led to the death of patients, according to the New York Times. In Ontario, Canada, health care workers who assist severely disabled patients are not yet required to be vaccinated, although measures to require the vaccine are being considered, according to the Toronto Star. Seven health care organizations released a consensus statement that health care workers must be vaccinated, according to Ars Technica, which quotes a number of medical experts as saying that vaccination for those in the medical field is an ethical issue, given the vulnerability of children and immunocompromised patients.
Lissa Rankin, a doctor and a blogger, expresses her outrage that people who are able to get the vaccine and refuse it based on misinformation are contributing to the continuing distortion of our world, in which children will again have to stay home from school, borders may close, and the collective events we have all missed become unviable again. “I’ve about had it with my fellow country mates,” she writes, “who refuse to cooperate with solving problems that require global cooperation- not just Covid, but climate crisis, overconsumption and out of control capitalism, world hunger and lack of access to clean water, poverty, environmental issues, and equal rights for people of all races, genders, sexual orientation, disabilities, and any other way in which people get marginalized and oppressed, among other things.” RLS
The American Medical Association (AMA) has a useful FAQ about COVID-19 and the vaccines.
No More Deaths/No Más Muertes‘ three-part report, Left to Die, details how asylum-seekers in the desert are abandoned by the Border Patrol. Though 911 calls are routed to them, they did not respond in 63% of cases. Lee Sandusky’s piece of literary journalism, “Scenes from an Emergency Clinic in the Sonoran Desert,” eloquently describes the work No More Deaths/No Más Muertes does.
The National Lawyers Guild has a series of webinars on issues from the global repression of voting, the local suppression of voting and the detention of immigrants.
A trans hotline with both Canadian and US numbers–and with operators who speak Spanish–provides services by and for trans people. You don’t need to be in crisis to call, and if you are a friend or a family member of a trans person, you can also call to find out how to support them. If you would like to know more about the organization, see their staff bios here.
The Americans of Conscience checklist has new actions every other week that will enable you to make your voice heard quickly and clearly. In addition, they have a good news section that will help you keep going.
Among the organizations that supports kids and their families at the border is RAICES, which provides legal support. The need for their services has never been greater. You can support them here.
Al Otro Lado provides legal and humanitarian services to people in both the US and Tijuana. You can find out more about their work here.
The Minority Humanitarian Foundation supports asylum-seekers who have been released by ICE with no means of transportation or ways to contact sponsors. You can donate frequent-flyer miles to make their efforts possible.
The group Angry Tias and Abuelas provides legal advice and services to asylum-seekers at the border. You can follow their work on Facebook and see the list of volunteer opportunities they have posted.