Systemic Racism and COVID-19: Vulnerabilities with the U.S. Social Safety Net for Immigrants and People of Color

America has a mythologized reputation as an accommodative “melting pot” nation that welcomes individuals from all races and countries seeking improved quality of life and reduced material hardship. However, our U.S. social welfare system is more broadly characterized as underdeveloped, restrictive, and exclusionary, especially toward immigrants and people of color. Public health benefits (e.g., Medicaid), food assistance programs (e.g., SNAP), rental assistance (e.g., HCV/Section 8), and cash assistance (e.g., TANF) are oftentimes restricted for immigrants and racial minorities, making them more vulnerable to material hardship and more exposed to pandemic conditions under COVID-19. Moreover, these welfare restrictions are oftentimes rooted in negative social construction and unflattering stereotypes of Black and Latine people. This paper connects deliberately racialized social welfare barriers, developed under the banner of “welfare reform” in the 1990s, to contemporary difficulties accessing benefits by minority groups, and subsequently heightened vulnerabilities around COVID-19. We suggest areas for improvement in social welfare policy development to better address systemic racism and COVID-19, and deepening inequalities from lack of access to the social safety net for immigrants and racial minorities in the U.S