Social justice correlates with every issue that populations face on a regular basis. The outbreak of the novel coronavirus that occurred in 2019 posed a threat not only to health security and public health but also to societal well-being and stability across micro, mezzo, and macro levels. COVID-19 has significantly impacted certain groups and individuals that are identified by specific factors, such as race, socioeconomic status, age, migration or employment status, disability, or gender (Mude et al., 2021). The previously-mentioned factors have reflected inequalities not only in health but also in society in general. Thus, the COVID-19 pandemic has furthered the imbalance of power and the distribution of resources, presenting social workers with the challenge of addressing disparities.
The African-American community has experienced significant disadvantages in the face of the pandemic due to the already-existing disparities and the generally diminished economic position in society. Atlanta’s Black community has been working for decades to unite to maintain the economic stability of single-parent households, low-income families, and disadvantaged individuals through providing job training, stable housing, financial education, and improved health costs. According to United Way Atlanta (2021) findings, more than 51,000 young adults in Atlanta are locked out of the economy as they are not working or attending school. In addition, one in three working mothers has had to quit a job, school, or work-training programs because they lack childcare (United Way Atlanta, 2021). Considering the economic disadvantages that the community faces, it is essential for social service organizations to provide consistent and immediate assistance to the community to alleviate the health and financial burden of COVID-19.
Social Services to be Offered to the Community
In order to address the socioeconomic challenges that Atlanta’s African American community faces during the pandemic, such social service agencies as United Way Atlanta and others should provide consistent support to groups in need while also pushing for policy change to improve services. The first area of social support to reduce the pandemic’s adverse impact entails a COVID-19 emergency housing assistance program. Housing assistance is imperative because families have been left without housing or are at risk of losing it due to their inability to pay rent or afford essential utilities. Such service programs are necessary for filling the gaps for those who have lost their income because of the pandemic. It is possible to collaborate with local non-profits to dispense funds throughout the community.
The second social service area entails fighting food insecurity that the African American population has faced as a result of the pandemic. This is essential because food insecurity has risen as a result of the pandemic, especially among households with children that require additional resources (Buchholz, 2021). Almost 15% of families with children were classified as food insecure, which means that they experienced difficulty to meet basic food needs in the span of the last two years characterized by the pandemic (Buchholz, 2021). Fighting food insecurity in Atlanta’s African American community can be achieved through in-person volunteering and collaborations with non-profit partners or local companies that can donate the necessary food or funds.
The third social service area pertains to the provision of access to healthcare services. In light of the pandemic, there are health equity concerns regarding racial and ethnic minority groups that lack resources to access high-quality healthcare services. Negative experiences are common within this group because their social determinants of health have historically prevented them from having equal opportunities for physical, economic, and emotional health (CDC, 2021). It is important for social workers to connect their clients with inclusive healthcare services that do not discriminate against clients based on their racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic background.
The fourth service area is concerned with the need to provide assistance in the sphere of mental health. Communities of color have been disproportionately influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, and they lack the financial resources to access mental health care (Saltzman et al., 2021). Specifically, social inequalities in health, such as health insurance coverage, service and provider access, as well as low-income levels, represent systemic and macro-level factors contributing to mental health disparities (Saltzman et al., 2021). Due to the persistent influence of social determinants of health that impact African American populations, the community experiences lower mental and physical health quality and decreased quality of life.
The fifth and social service area to be addressed is the provision of work assistance to the African American community of Atlanta. Workers of color have faced significant job losses as a result of the pandemic, and, combined with the preexisting socioeconomic determinants, they are in an unfavorable position. Social workers are challenged with connecting disadvantaged communities with workplaces and encouraging them to apply for work. Employment services are available through WorkSource Atlanta, Job Search Assistance in the Georgia Department of Labor, the National Association of African Americans in Human Resources, and other agencies.
Social Service Organizations/Agencies
United Way Atlanta meets the criteria for addressing the issue of the housing crisis among the identified target group. The organization has collaborated with the US Department of the Treasury Emergency Rental Assistance program to provide eligible individuals with financial support regarding rent payments, security deposits, utilities, and others. The program has been set to fill the financial gaps for those who do not have the needed financial stability during COVID-19. Atlanta Community Food Bank has also been instrumental in addressing the challenge of food insecurity within African American communities of Atlanta. The organization meets the criteria for solving the challenge as it accounts for the different drivers of hunger, ranging from race and ethnicity to poverty and unemployment. Atlanta Community Food Bank educates and empowers the community and works with more than seven hundred partners to distribute meals across metro Atlanta and north Georgia. It is also a part of Feeding America, which is the country’s largest charity for hunger relief, made up of more than two hundred food banks.
NAACP Atlanta fits the requirements to address the problem of systematic limitations in healthcare access among African Americans in Atlanta. The organization has recognized the fact that Black Americans live at higher risks of COVID-19 complications while they lack access to high-quality health care. Specifically, during COVID-19, the NAACP has called for the expansion of Medicaid as a way to establish a short-term measure to cover health care for Black communities who do not have health insurance. In addition, the organization is pushing for Congress to extend the coverage within the Affordable Care Act and ensure access to high-quality and affordable care for communities in need beginning in 2021.
To facilitate the improved mental health of the African American community in Atlanta, National Alliance on Mental Illness in Georgie has been focusing on the challenge. The agency meets the criteria for maintaining good mental health because it recognizes the fact that minorities have less access to quality mental health services and are less likely to receive care that meets their needs. Besides, the organization gives a definition to stigma regarding mental illness, suggesting that minority populations view mental illness as unimportant and humiliating, which prevents them from seeking relevant help. To ensure that therapeutic interventions are successful in communities of color, their treatment is designed to be equally competent, accessible, and empathetic as it is for their white counterparts.
WorkSource Atlanta meets the criteria for addressing the issue of unemployment within the community as it provides job seekers with important resources to attain sustainable employment and collaborates with businesses for recruiting and developing their labor needs. It is dedicated to creating a dynamic and disciplined workforce to achieve long-term financial success and establish a collaborative network of stakeholders to strengthen communities. Through workforce training programs, the agency provides opportunities for job seekers to strengthen their skills and find employment in stable and profitable areas of expertise.
Availability of Resources
Today, there is a lack of resources to treat socioeconomic challenges that affect African American communities of Atlanta in light of the pandemic. For example, United Way Atlanta has been experiencing a large inflow of applications for the COVID-19 Emergency Housing Assistance Program and is currently not accepting any more (United Way Atlanta, 2021). Despite the daily work of the agency aimed at supporting the community, there is a lack of resources available to meet the growing needs of the population.
When it comes to providing mental health support to the target group, social workers have faced significant individual, interpersonal, and societal influences. During the pandemic, social workers have operated across micro, mezzo, and macro practice levels and have been visible in fighting against social justice, especially against racism and xenophobia. Due to the significant mental health pressures that social workers face, alongside the increased inflow of clients, there is a lack of available professionals to meet the need of all clients (Mental Health America of Georgia, 2021). This means that social workers themselves require extensive mental health support so that they are well-equipped to address their clients’ challenges. Besides, social isolation practices have both created and exacerbated mental health concerns of social workers and the population as a whole.
It has also been shown that the sphere of social work experiences challenges connecting clients from low-income African American communities to health resources to address the issues that they face during the pandemic. As mentioned by Reuters Staff (2020), Black patients diagnosed with COVID-19 in Atlanta are more likely to be hospitalized. Because of limited resources when accessing healthcare, patients of color face health complications due to the adverse influence of the virus. Several agencies have been the ones addressing the deeply-rooted inequities associated with race and the pandemic in Atlanta. For instance, the Center for Black Women’s Wellness has been implementing virtual health solutions in collaboration with the BET COVID-19 Relief Fund, focusing on women who are financially struggling. Even though the number of cases has been extensive, the agency does not report staff shortages or issues in service delivery. Therefore, it is well-equipped to manage the inflow of cases and can provide sufficient and effective support to local African American communities.
Considering the fact that the main challenge is concerned with the lack of financial stability in the African American community of Atlanta during COVID-19, the main policy change should be concerned with establishing a financial support framework to guarantee access to affordable and timely health care as well as the capacity to fill gaps associated with housing, employment, or food security. At the state level, the policy will ensure that all individuals eligible for financial support from the government receive it consistently to ensure adequate life quality during the challenges of the pandemic. The policy change is recommended as it will allow the target population to feel safe and supported by the government at times of adversity (Williams & Cooper, 2019). The policy change is also necessary for facilitating an improvement in the levels of social workers’ preparedness to deal with the large volumes of cases of African American communities in Atlanta.
Currently, the system of social work experiences significant challenges when it comes to addressing all cases of disadvantaged and low-income individuals who do not have the resources to sustain themselves during the pandemic. A policy change is necessary to alleviate the pressure from social work agencies and instill a sense of support and confidence in populations in need. The interaction of pre-existing health disparities and socioeconomic conditions has exacerbated the inequalities among African American communities, and it is imperative that policy change is put in place to address these disparities.
Buchholz, K. (2021). How did COVID-19 spike U.S. food insecurity levels?
CDC. (2021). Health equity considerations & racial & ethnic minority groups.
Mental Health America of Georgia. (2021). Mental health in the African American community.
Mude, W., Oguoma, V. M., Nyanhanda, T., Mwanri, L., & Njue, C. (2021). Racial disparities in COVID-19 pandemic cases, hospitalizations, and deaths: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Global Health, 11, 05015.
Reuters Staff. (2020). Black patients with COVID-19 in Atlanta more likely to be hospitalized: CDC.
Saltzman, L. Y., Lesen, A. E., Henry, V., Hansel, T., & Bordnick, P. (2021). COVID-19 mental health disparities. Health Security, 10(S1).
United Way Atlanta. (2021). Atlanta COVID-19 emergency housing assistance program.
Williams, D. R., & Cooper, L. A. (2019). Reducing Racial Inequities in Health: Using what we already know to take action. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(4), 606.