Groups Launch $100 Million Fund to Address Hispanic Pandemic Disparity

The health and financial disparities that have devastated the Latino community due to the pandemic over the last year are not new, but as vaccinations continue and states fully reopen, a new $100 million initiative seeks to bring together nonprofits and Fortune 1000 companies to ensure Hispanics are not left behind.

Newsweek has learned that the Healthy Americas Foundation, which supports the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, is launching the Hispanic Family Equity Fund, an ambitious effort to address shortcomings of the last year and prepare for the realities of a post-pandemic landscape.

The initiative is looking to use $20 million to fund immediate "equity grants" to partnering community-based organizations to support family services such as early education, child care, food security, health insurance, economic support and job training.

An additional $5 million will be used to support local and national policy data efforts centered on equity, in an effort to ensure Hispanic families reap the full benefits of pandemic recovery efforts. The majority of the funding, $75 million, would be earmarked for a standing investment fund to support innovations and emerging opportunities that arise to best deliver services to Latinos.

Healthy Americas Foundation president and CEO Dr. Jane L. Delgado told Newsweek the top priority of her organization is giving grants to community-based organizations to support the mix of services that people need most in that particular community.

"Recovery is not just getting a vaccine and taking your mask off, it's 'how do you reengage with the community?'" Delgado said. "Each organization will provide their own solutions, because solutions in Texas are not the same as in California or New York."

The fundraising effort is being boosted by Centene, a St. Louis-based Fortune 500 healthcare company, which is calling on companies and foundations to join the fund, while providing $1 million in matching funds.

In a letter to Fortune 1000 companies shared with Newsweek, Centene CEO Michael Neidorff and Senior Vice President Marcela Manjarrez-Hawn challenged the leading companies to join the fund, stressing that while the pandemic did not create the health and economic inequities facing Hispanic communities, "it did exacerbate them," shining "an uncomfortable light on the gross disparities faced by America's largest minority group."

Quoting labor icon Dolores Huerta, the Centene executives rallied corporate leaders to "use our lives to make the world a better place, not just to acquire things."

"The disparities in our country are incredible when it comes to Hispanics," Neidorff told Newsweek. "Many of them were considered essential workers, so we saw this as an incredibly worthwhile effort."

The Hispanic Family Equity Fund seeks to help groups on the ground in heavily-Latino communities like the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF), which operates out of Los Angeles, one of the largest Hispanic community early childhood education and daycare providers offering after-school, financial literacy, adult health promotion and senior support services.

The group received $750,000 from various foundations since the beginning of the pandemic for bilingual outreach to Latinos touting the benefit of vaccines, and held a Pfizer vaccine community event last month in the parking lot of their Montebello office with Rite Aid and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D - Calif.).

Martin Castro, the group's president and CEO, said efforts like the Hispanic Family Equity Fund go a long way, especially as states like California begin to fully reopen.

"We've seen firsthand there's a lot of interest in the vaccine and a lot of skepticism," he told Newsweek. There's a big need to make a concerted effort, and of course, that takes money."

In Dallas, The Concilio, led by Florencia Velasco-Fortner, brought together Hispanic-serving organizations in the region to coordinate COVID response, including groceries for the homebound, food pantries, Sesame Street books to kids, and most recently a drive-through vaccination clinic.

But while the story of a community coming together to help each other is a laudable one, there are pressing issues. For example, while the student body is 70% Hispanic, the schools superintendent announced last month that 40% of high school seniors were not poised to graduate, Velasco-Fortner said.

She has been a partner of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health for years, and said the most necessary part of the fund is the impressive investment in innovation strategies.

Citing Dan Heath's book "Upstream," which posited that if kids continue showing up downstream drowning it would be helpful to go upstream to figure out why they're drowning, Velasco-Fortner hopes the post-pandemic landscape is used to bring community organizations together to create collective intelligence around how to make long-lasting improvements in local towns and cities.

"We entered this crisis already in a crisis," she said, calling for efforts to "put our heads together to figure out the best options for our Latino families."

Dr. Jane Delgado, who is spearheading the fund, knows the mental health of Latinos is an integral part of this effort as well. As a trained clinical psychologist, she became so concerned with the havoc the pandemic was wreaking on Latinos that she wrote a book about depression called "The Buena Salud Guide to Understanding Depression and Enjoying Life."

But Latinos are not one monolithic group, comprised instead of individual communities in pockets of varying sizes across the country. Her partner organizations range from Washington state to Arkansas, North Carolina to Nebraska.

They include one outside of Atlanta that offers services to a heavily-immigrant rural community, and another outside of Philadelphia that works with workers on mushroom farms.

"Just like we talk in medicine that personalized medicine is the future," Delgado said, "the solution to what COVID has created must be individualized to the communities."

latino pandemic
Farm worker Marcos Cruz receives a dose of the Johnson & Johnson Janssen Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination site organized by the United Farm Workers (UFW), Kern Medical, and the Kern County Latino Covid-19 Task Force inside Reuther Hall at Forty Acres on March 13, 2021 in Delano, California. Central Valley farm workers were administered the vaccines free of charge, regardless of insurance or immigration status. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images) Patrick T. Fallon AFP/Getty Images