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Will Biden’s Promise of Additional Resources for Those with “Long Term COVID” Help Latinos? It Depends.

Immigration status should not be a burden on long-term COVID care.

By Roberto Valdez Jr., Associate Director, External Affairs; and Noreen Sugrue, Director of Research, Latino Policy Forum

President Biden announced on Monday “enhanced support” for people suffering from “long-term COVID.” Speaking at the White House on the 31st anniversary of the seminal Americans with Disabilities Act, the president said that these serious, long-term cases of living with the consequences of COVID—including persistent fatigue and “brain fog”—could qualify as a disability under federal law. It’s not an automatic qualification, as federal guidelines say “an individualized assessment” would be needed. Nonetheless, it is indeed good news for those living with the effects of the virus, or at least a first step in recognizing that this pandemic continues to affect many even after initial recovery.

But is this good news for Latinos? The answer depends on whether access to these increased resources will be tied to immigration status or having an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).

To date, accessing the federal COVID support and aid (e.g., relief dollars or payroll protection payments) has hinged on not being undocumented or living in a mixed status family, as well as having an ITIN. Use of these criteria has carried a significant cost to individuals, families, municipalities, counties, and states. As earlier analysis by Forum staff shows, under the initial CARES Act, for example, because of immigration status or the lack of an ITIN, approximately 684,000 Illinois residents were denied federal relief dollars, this translated into Illinois losing approximately $706 million in federal relief dollars. And while later relief bills were more inclusive of immigrants and their families, there still are approximately 94,000 people in Illinois who have been denied COVID-related relief dollars from the federal government.

At the same time, with a cumulative case rate of 11,424 cases per 100,000, Latinos have the highest rate of COVID among all racial and ethnic groups in Illinois. Of those Latinos in Illinois who have been diagnosed with COVID, about 20 percent are under the age of 20 and approximately 70 percent are in the working-age population between 20 and 59 years old. Another way to understand the impact of COVID on young Latinos in Illinois is know that 50,460 or nearly seven percent of Latinos under the age of 20 have been diagnosed with COVID. And while Latinos account for about 16 percent of all COVID deaths in Illinois, their death rate of 166 per 100,000 persons is lower than that for Blacks or whites. These data tell us that of all racial/ethnic groups it is Latinos that have the highest rate of infection and relatively low rates of death, which in turn means it is likely Latinos will be overrepresented among those with long-term effects from COVID.

Recent studies have found that anywhere from 8 to 30 percent of those who develop COVID also will develop long-term COVID effects. For Latinos in Illinois, those rates translate into anywhere from 21,000 to 76,000 developing those long-term effects; 4,000 to 15,000 Latinos under the age of 20; and between 14,000 and 53,000 Latinos of working age (20-59).

The state of Illinois has been generous in providing COVID-related assistance to Latinos, regardless of immigration status or whether they possess an ITIN. However, the costs associated with long-term COVID effects are unknown but likely to be significant: too significant for any state, even one as generous as Illinois, to absorb. Federal assistance is imperative.

While President Biden is right to recognize that those with long-term COVID effects should have increased assistance, we must absolutely ensure that the federal government does not use immigration status or the possession of an ITIN as criteria for distributing aid and other resources to people with long-term COVID, or use immigration status when determining a long-term COVID disability claim.