By Kassidy Arena, Iowa Public Radio News
The nation’s oldest Latino advocacy organization said it is going to partner with a Biden administration taskforce looking at COVID-19 health concerns. The League of United Latin American Citizens’ (LULAC) Iowa chapter wants to make sure its specific concerns are heard.
This year, the national chapter announced it is working closely with the Biden administration in its COVID-19 health equity task force.
The task force will focus on resolving COVID-19 health disparities among the country’s Latino and other minority populations. Task force chair Dr. Marcela Nunez-Smith spoke at LULAC’s 92nd birthday celebration “State of Latino America” virtual summit to announce the benefits of the partnership.
The task force will work with LULAC to focus on access to resources like personal protective equipment, COVID-19 therapies and the vaccine in Latino communities.
“The agenda is ambitious for the task force, but we look forward to continue partnerships with LULAC and others in doing that work,” Nunez-Smith said.
Iowa LULAC State Director Nick Salazar said it’s important to distinguish between issues the national league may recognize and those that specifically affect Iowa.
“We’re celebrating the LULAC 92nd anniversary, we are part of the organization and we have the same mission, but the issues are just a little bit different,” Salazar said. “What we want to do is use our platform and our relationships with national LULAC and the Biden administration to put our issues on the forefront. One of which is COVID-19.”
With Iowa’s high number of meat packing plants and high number of Latino employees, Joe Henry, the political director for Iowa LULAC and Des Moines chapter president, said vaccine access is a major issue affecting Iowa’s Latinos. He said he applauds the administration for working with national LULAC and allowing Latinos a “chair at the table.”
“But clearly what we’ve seen in Iowa through our LULAC councils, we are sure more needs to be discussed [about inequity in healthcare],” Henry said. “And we need to make sure that we get that information up to the administration in D.C. and through members of Congress.”
Almost 200,000 Latinos live in Iowa and Henry said the Iowa league needs to make sure information gets to national LULAC, even though the two organizations have had their ups and downs in the past.
“We will always have to look at it this way: nothing good ever happens without struggle. You can have the right people at the table, but it will be difficult to implement policy,” Henry said.
On a more local level, Mike Reyes serves on both the city of Davenport LULAC chapter and on the executive committee for Iowa LULAC. Like Henry, he said vaccine access is the most important thing to focus on, but they haven’t seen the effects of the national chapter’s partnership yet.
“We’re kind of on our own, because this rollout is, you know, it’s so complicated. And it’s so confusing. We’re trying to take care of the folks, right here in our communities at the grassroots level,” Reyes explained.
He said there is “little to no outreach” to older adults about how to access COVID-19 vaccines when they are available. He said the Davenport LULAC chapter has offered its facilities to the county to help distribute vaccinations.
Reyes emphasized since meat packing plant employees are considered essential workers, they should be able to access the vaccine at the same time as teachers. PK-12 school staff are currently listed in “Tier 1, Phase 1B” of the state’s vaccine release plan, which began this month.
Co-chair of the task force Nunez-Smith said the foremost information to bring to Latino communities about the vaccine is that it is free, and no identification will be needed once the vaccine is more available to the general public.
The LULAC representatives said they are hopeful the Biden administration will bring about changes in comprehensive immigration reform and equal access to educational opportunities for the Latino population in Iowa.
“It’s definitely a 180 from where we were the past four years,” Salazar said. “While we do have a different administration and leadership, we still have to hold them accountable to follow issues and address concerns in our community.”