'We're At The Bottom Rung Of The Ladder': COVID-19's Impact On John Wiley Price's District | KERA News

'We're At The Bottom Rung Of The Ladder': COVID-19's Impact On John Wiley Price's District

Apr 13, 2020

Dallas County's longest-sitting commissioner and its only African American, John Wiley Price, didn't take well to recent county-wide closures of pawn shops, check-cashing businesses and barber shops due to COVID-19. 

After his vocal disagreement with County Judge Clay Jenkins, pawnshops and paycheck lenders can now operate.

Price, whose district includes southern Dallas and some of the county's poorest neighborhoods, talked with us about the economic and health issues felt keenly by his constituents.

Reporter Bill Zeeble: Commissioner Price, I'm glad you agreed to talk to us. You were quoted the other day saying it was easier for a dog to get a haircut than your constituents [in District 3]. I'm wondering how things might have changed.

John Wiley Price: Well, unfortunately not much. Animals can get groomed. But there are thousands of cosmetologists and barbers ... who basically make it day-to-day and can't seem to catch a break right now. ... I have also been monitoring pawn shops. I've driven around, and there is a [long] line for people who are unbanked. 

Zeeble: So, this is the proverbial rock and a hard place.

Price: You know, we know where the poverty map is, and it's traditionally in areas in my district. A hundred square miles is challenged with everything from internet deserts to food deserts to housing deserts. It's the same five zip codes I've talked about for the last 20 years here. You know, it's all the chronic illnesses, it's all the challenges. We're at the bottom rung of the ladder. So, if America catches cold, we catch pneumonia.

Zeeble: Your constituents are lower-income than other districts.

Price: Sure.

Zeeble: And your constituents are, more than other districts, prone to more of these health issues that put them at risk.

Price: You know, that's the history of health disparities in this country. And even if you deal with the Affordable Care Act, this was the strategic year for the Community Health Needs Assessment. All safety net hospitals are charged with making an assessment and implementing a plan, a strategy to address those concerns. We always run into public policy issues when we talk about the issue of justice, and health care is just another justice issue.

Zeeble: So do you see a faster, better solution if Dallas County would do x, y or z, that it's not doing now?

Price: Before this epidemic, pandemic — more like plan-demic — I had looked forward to us being able to forge some new avenues into those areas, like diabetes, hypertension. But I've got to balance it now. These are systems that public policy has set up, and we were getting ready to do appropriation from Parkland and these community health workers because people said, "Oh, all you got to do is use the internet." Well, we're in internet desert. There is a challenge there.

Zeeble: I mean, I'm an education reporter, and I'm thinking the untold story is how many students are out there with zero internet. What you're telling me is that there's any number of constituents in your district who are in the same boat, whether they're student age or whether they're elderly, that they just don't have the money.

Price: And the Infrastructure's not there.

Zeeble: When you hear from your constituents, their complaints, what are you telling them?

Price: I'm telling them "One battle at a time." Again, you know — I took some flack, even from some people in my community, about pawn shops. There are 179 of them in Dallas, I'd bet — I didn't know that before all of this occurred. They'd make a loan of about $3,000 on average a day, according to their association. I can only take on one battle at a time.

Zeeble: Commissioner Price, thanks for the time.

Price: Thank you, sir.

This conversation was edited lightly for clarity.