As California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra led a national effort to preserve the Affordable Care Act and fought the Trump administration on issues ranging from the environment to immigration to the census.
On the anniversary of his confirmation as the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services, Becerra and others are celebrating his community work, particularly among Latinos.
Becerra was confirmed as health secretary by the Senate a year ago Friday, making him the first Latino to hold the position. He took over the job as Covid-19 was wreaking havoc on the country’s hospitals and many Americans were just beginning to get vaccinated.
The virus was wreaking havoc on Latinos at a disproportionately higher rate than on many other ethnic or racial groups. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pew Research Center, more than half of Latinos in the United States know someone close to them who has been hospitalized or died from Covid, either in the United States or abroad.
According to CDC estimates for recipients whose race and ethnicity are known, only 5.8 percent of Latinos were fully vaccinated when Becerra took the job.
HHS was successful by reaching out to the Latino community, making more information about Covid and vaccinations available in Spanish and other languages, leveraging Spanish language media and news shows, and enlisting Latino leaders and groups who already work in the community to help counter misinformation and increase the urgency of vaccinations. Becerra is also promoting the millions of people who have signed up for Obamacare, in part because the agency quadrupled the number of Navigators — groups or organizations that assist individuals with the enrollment process.
The work contrasts with the Trump administration’s initial efforts, which did not provide information in Spanish on its first guide for preventing coronavirus and cut funding for outreach.
Becerra stated that under his leadership, 14 million people have signed up for Obamacare, with 6 million of them having never had health insurance before. As California’s attorney general, Becerra was instrumental in the passage of the Affordable Care Act by Congress and later defended it in court. Following criticism that he has kept too low a public profile as secretary amid the coronavirus crisis, Becerra has been doing a round of interviews and appearances, including a news conference on his anniversary on Friday. Latino leaders reacted angrily to the criticism.
According to his staff, HHS provided $7.3 billion in vaccines to 1,400 federally qualified health clinics that primarily serve Latino families. According to the office, nearly 15 million vaccines have been administered in health centers across the country, with 67 percent going to racial and ethnic minorities.
To promote vaccinations among Latinos, the agency enlisted the assistance of 14 community-known Latino organizations, including Mi Familia Vota, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and Poder Latinx. Much misinformation about Covid-19 has been directed at Latinos, instilling distrust and fear in the community. The agency is addressing this in part through its Spanish-language website, “Juntos S Podemos,” which is dedicated to vaccine information and Covid prevention.
Prior to the pandemic, the high rate of Latinos without health insurance was well documented. However, the impact of that inequality became more widely understood by Americans when employers in critical industries, such as meat processing plants, suddenly found themselves with Latino employees who could not work from home and became infected or died from the virus.
HHS announced in February that approximately $80 million had been awarded to groups to train and certify more than 1,500 Navigators to assist Latinos and others in finding and enrolling in health coverage. President Joe Biden signed the Covid relief law last year, making Affordable Care Act premiums more affordable for millions of people, though the reductions are only temporary.
Becerra is the son of a Mexican immigrant mother and a U.S. citizen father who moved back and forth between the two countries. His father had worked in the fields and on roads. His mother was employed as a secretary. Becerra, the eldest of four children, was the first in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree.