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    The Need for LGBTQ Data During COVID-19

    By Assemblymember Phil Ting —

    Demographic data is important for health equity because it helps to identify a community’s vulnerability to disease and deliver more culturally competent care. COVID-19 data shows that infection rates have been disproportionately high among Black and Latino populations compared to other racial groups. Unfortunately, sexual orientation and gender identity statistics are not similarly broken out, so it’s difficult to know the impact the coronavirus has had on the nearly 1.7 million LGBTQ adults living in California.

    But a recent study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law suggests we can glean some information by looking at health and socio-economic characteristics of the LGBTQ community and draw reasonable conclusions.

    ( https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/press/covid-lgbt-ca-press-release/ )

    Prior to the pandemic, for instance, researchers found hundreds of thousands in the LGBTQ community have an underlying medical condition, such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease and HIV—which makes them more vulnerable to COVID-19. Complicating matters is that more than 134,000 LGBTQ individuals do not have health insurance, influencing whether or not one seeks care.

    The Williams Institute numbers are equally concerning on the economic front. Roughly 814,000 LGBTQ workers are employed in sectors that suffered from job losses as a result of the stay-at-home order, including the restaurant, retail, and hospitality industries. Nearly one-third of those workers were earning below 200% the poverty line, and poverty has long been associated with poor health outcomes.

    Based on the picture these statistics paint, we will likely see that the coronavirus has hit the LGBTQ community hard when the actual data is finally tracked. As Chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, I saw a critical need to boost government programs for vulnerable communities and pushed for a state spending plan that increased access to services—not cut them, despite facing a multi-billion-dollar budget deficit. Healthcare under Medi-Cal, for instance, was expanded to cover more residents who lost their health insurance when they were laid off. We also created a new program to pay for COVID-19 testing and care for anyone uninsured in California.

    The state will also extend, starting in 2022, the time families can receive cash aid through CalWorks from four years to five, while strengthening the education and job training components of the program. Enrollment won’t have to be continuous, allowing those who have already timed out of the program to remain eligible. We also simplified access to CalFresh benefits so families can put food on the table, and allocated $50 million to food banks to help them keep up with increased demand.

    Affordable housing and preventing homelessness are important too. With a quarter of San Francisco’s unsheltered identifying as LGBTQ, the city is among the local jurisdictions receiving $300 million in state funding to continue addressing homelessness. Another $300 million was allocated to programs that prevent people from losing the roofs over their head, providing mortgage relief and legal services for tenants who face eviction.

    Surviving the pandemic can also be tough for small businesses to navigate. It would be heartbreaking to see more LGBTQ-owned enterprises like The Stud close. To stop more such closures from happening, $100 million went to the California Infrastructure Economic Development Bank, known as iBank, to beef up a loan guarantee program to help keep our neighborhood treasures alive.

    These budgetary enhancements are aimed at helping all Californians, and surely, the LGBTQ community will see benefits. But we really can’t address its specific needs during the pandemic until we have sexual orientation and gender identity data.

    That’s why I support and will vote for SB 932 by State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), which would mandate COVID-19 tracking systems to include such information. With improved reporting, the state will be able to better direct resources and work toward more equitable policies.

    Phil Ting represents the 19th Assembly District, which includes the Westside of San Francisco along with the communities of Broadmoor, Colma, and Daly City.

    Published on August 3, 2020