Experts Discuss Policy Solutions to Address COVID-19’s Unequal Impact on Women and People of Color

With the California legislature returning to session next week, policy experts highlighted COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on women and people of color in a virtual salon on May 1 and called on state leaders to support policy solutions tailored to help the most vulnerable communities in the state.

ACA 5, introduced by Assemblymember Shirley Weber on March 10 would restore affirmative action in public contracting, public hiring, and public education so that state and local governments could better meet the public health and economic needs of a diverse California. 

“As a state leader,” said Malia Cohen, Member of the California State Board of Equalization, who has publicly endorsed ACA 5. “I’m committed to doing whatever it takes to make California stronger than ever — especially as we rebuild after the COVID-19 crisis. That means prioritizing the health and economic well-being of the most vulnerable in our communities. One of the best ways to do that right now is by restoring affirmative action and equal opportunity programs that protect women and people of color from discrimination.”

“COVID-19 has shown us just how unequal our public health system is in California,” said Dr. David Hayes-Bautista, PhD, Director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the UCLA Geffen School of Medicine. “As communities of color, especially Latino and African American communities, across the state are dying with far greater frequency from COVID-19 than white Californians, it’s imperative we take every opportunity to restore and strengthen our commitment to health equity in the state of California. We are all safer when we protect the most vulnerable — and that’s what affirmative action and equal opportunity programs will do.”  

Friday’s virtual salon was organized by the Opportunity For All Coalition, which is co-chaired by Vincent Pan, Executive Director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, and Eva Paterson, President of the Equal Justice Society. The Opportunity for All Coalition has built a diverse coalition of leaders and organizations from across California, advocating for affirmative action and equal opportunity programs, and the passage of ACA 5. The salon provided the coalition, supporters, and the media with a unique opportunity to hear from experts about why equal opportunity and affirmative action programs are critical in the age of COVID-19. 

Eva Paterson moderated the discussion, which was attended by 131 people on Zoom. Participants engaged policy experts with questions ranging from COVID-19’s impact on the state budget in the near- and long-term, to why ACA 5 will help protect vulnerable communities from another health or economic crisis.

Dr. Elisha Smith Arrillaga, Executive Director of The Education Trust-West, said, “Achieving equal opportunity in education for California students is a critical piece of building a stronger, more equitable state for all Californians. It’s critical we ensure the next generations of educators reflect the diversity of our students from pre-K through college — and that they are empowered with the resources and tools to succeed at every level.” She added: “Leaders need to listen to the voices of educators and families who are hardest hit by the public health and economic crisis. ACA 5 can help ensure that California leaders direct COVID-19 emergency resources to our most vulnerable communities. We have an opportunity to respond to this crisis with historic progress in California — let’s not miss this moment.”

Future salons may be held by the Opportunity For All Coalition, featuring other distinguished experts who support ACA 5, and restoring affirmative action in California. 

ACA 5 is authored by Assemblymember Shirley Weber and Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson, and co-authored by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, Assemblymember Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer, Sr., Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager, and Senator Holly Mitchell.

ACA 5 is supported by the leading civil rights organizations, labor groups and business leaders across California including Equal Justice Society, the California Black Chamber of Commerce, Chinese for Affirmative Action, ACLUs of California and scores of other community advocates. 

For more information about the virtual salon and the Opportunity for All Coalition behind ACA5, visit

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