Baltimore plans to hire 300 jobless residents to fight the spread of COVID-19 in the neighborhoods hardest hit by the deadly disease.
Jason Perkins-Cohen, director of the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, said Tuesday the new Baltimore Health Corp. initiative aims to tackle the duel economic and health crisis created by the coronavirus’ outbreak.
“We all know that the cure to any economic crisis is a j-o-b,” Perkins-Cohen said.
A Rockefeller Foundation grant of $2 million provides the initial funding for the $12 million program. The initiative will hire residents out of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic as contact tracers, care coordinators and community health workers. Including benefits, the cost of employing these residents is expected to be about $11 million.
During the past three months nearly 700,000 Maryland residents applied for first-time unemployment benefits, according to the Maryland Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation. That includes more than 43,000 residents in the week that ended May 30.
So far Maryland has confirmed 56,000 cases of the disease, according to the state Department of Health, and more than 2,500 people have died. The disease has infected nearly 6,000 Baltimore residents since March, and more than 250 city residents have died from the illness.
African Americans, who make up nearly 63% of the city’s estimated population of nearly 593,500, have suffered disproportionately from COVID-19 since the pandemic arrived in the U.S.
The latest sample data from the Center for Disease Control found that 33% of hospitalized patients were African American, 8% Hispanic, and 18% came from various other groups. Nationally, blacks make up about 13% of the population.
In New York City, according to the CDC, African-American COVID-19 deaths reached 92.3 deaths per 100,000 population compared to 45.2 deaths per 100,000 population for whites.
Residents hired by the Baltimore Health Corp. initiative are expected to be deployed to serve the city’s most at-risk communities, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said during a news conference at the War Memorial building.
“The Baltimore Health Corp. is the first of its kind because it will target hiring individuals who have recently lost their jobs due to the pandemic and live in the communities hardest hit by COVID-19,” Young said.
Private sector and nonprofit partners,including Fagan Harris, CEO and president of Baltimore Corps, Danielle Torain, director of Open Society Institute-Baltimore, and Otis Rolley, senior vice president of U.S. Equity and Economic Opportunity at the Rockefeller Foundation, joined Young to tout the program’s potential.
Rolley, a former director of Baltimore’s Department of Planning, and former mayoral candidate, tied the battle against COVID-19 to broader struggles of African Americans.
The foundation is providing $50 million in grants to address disparities nationwide in health, food access, economic opportunity and equity, Rolley said, “because black lives matter.”
“Rockefeller (Foundation) did this because we know that America is being hit with both an old and a new pandemic. The old pandemic of racism and the new pandemic of COVID-19,” Rolley said.
The Baltimore City Health Department and Baltimore Corp. will handle the hiring the 300 residents. Applicants do not need previous medical experience. Jobs with the program will pay between $35,000 and $39,000 a year.
“Folks can begin to apply today, and we’re hiring immediately,” Harris said.