I want to discuss the demonstrations held around Pennsylvania and the country in response to the murder of George Floyd. As a white woman, I have never experienced the anxiety, fear, and generations of collective, community-wide trauma that many Black, indigenous, and people of color face every day in Pennsylvania and around the United States. However, treatment of these individuals is something I care deeply about both in my personal life and through DHS' work. I want to state unequivocally that we here at DHS will not tolerate racism, discrimination, or mistreatment of anyone. We are committed to using our work and our position to correct disparities and inequity created by generations of racism, segregation, unequal resources, and structural discrimination that most often hurts Black and other communities of color.
These protests and the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many other Black lives are forcing us to have difficult but very overdue conversations. These conversations create a necessary opportunity to understand what role all of our services and supports play in communities of color and what we must do to lift these communities and actively reject the disenfranchisement and racism that has persisted for too long. We can begin to fill the gaps in resources and support that hold these communities in poverty. Twelve percent of Pennsylvanians identify as Black or African American, but Black and African American people are disproportionately enrolled in public assistance programs, accounting for 25 percent of our Medicaid enrollment, 29 percent of SNAP, and 53 percent of TANF. This is what happens from years of divestment of resources away from majority minority communities.
We must evaluate our presence in historically underserved and disadvantaged communities and do more to fill gaps that have grown for too long. Before COVID-19 – a virus that we must remember has disproportionately harmed communities of color -- many of our conversations and initiatives revolved around urban and extremely rural communities and what we could do to better serve people in these areas of the state. While these communities are often pitted against each other as political talking points, their needs are often more closely aligned than not. There are shortages of jobs that pay life-sustaining wages, a dearth of accessible post-secondary education or job training opportunities, and other barriers like availability of public transportation and child care.
It does not have to be this way, and we have the power to start to fix this. We can structure our health care system to address health inequities. We can invest in education and training that help people out of poverty. We can support equitable access to quality education. We can reject white supremacy by engraining cultural awareness and sensitivity to the effects of racism and structural inequities as core values in service delivery. We can uplift communities that have been overlooked for too long by building systems that are actively anti-racist.
These existing disadvantages will make recovery from this pandemic and the economic insecurity like we face now even more challenging. We must be responsive to this challenge and use this opportunity to be truly transformative in how we serve people in these communities. Our public assistance system should be a safety net and a resource to help people during difficult times. Our communities should not be starved for resources in a way that holds people in a level of poverty that requires them to try to live off these programs. The challenges we currently face provide an opportunity to build partnerships between state and local governments, community organizations, and the private sector that can revitalize and bring more opportunity and hope into these communities.
DHS is committed to doing this, and these are conversations that we are now having more regularly and broadly. These conversations are necessary, and I hope all of you will join us in this effort. Governor Wolf has mentioned previously that there are two Pennsylvanias – prosperous, vibrant communities, and communities that have been forgotten through generations of divestment. We cannot accept that it has to be this way, and we must not lose the opportunity to create one Pennsylvania as it should be – equity and opportunity for all people. We cannot undo the consequences of generations of racism, segregation, and structural disenfranchisement individually, and we must come together to be a force that rejects racism ingrained in our health care and social services system. We are all uniquely positioned to bring the change necessary to do better for Black and other people of color in Pennsylvania. Black lives matter, but we cannot just say that – we must show that every day through our work and interactions with the people we serve. I hope you will join us as we look inward and not lose this opportunity.