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Activists Call On Gov. Newsom to Fund the Fight Against Health and Racial Inequities

Community-based organizations on the front lines take the brunt of health and racial disparities. Will California do something about it?

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Photo: Getty Images News

Nonprofits working in the state’s most disadvantaged communities are asking Gov. Newsom once again to create a fund that would let them tackle health and racial disparities head on.

Dozens of supporters staged a series of rallies over the past two weeks in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Fresno, San Diego and Oakland, carrying signs with messages such as “Gov. Newsom will you include us in your #CABudget” and “We are all public health.” Community advocates are hoping the public demonstrations will help convince the governor of the importance of providing direct funding to their organizations, and hoping for a different outcome than the one they experienced last year. 

In 2021 Gov. Newsom rejected a proposal to include $100 million in his budget for the California Health Equity and Racial Justice Fund, which would provide grants to nonprofits serving disadvantaged communities. As it turned out, a budget surplus and the COVID-19 related deaths of tens of thousands of Black and Latino residents wasn’t enough to persuade the governor to create a special fund explicitly combatting health and racial inequities.

What, if anything, will be different this year?

For starters, the budget surplus for 2022 is estimated to be more than $45 billion, an even bigger pot of money than last year’s $38 billion. More importantly, sponsors of the California Health Equity and Racial Justice Fund — backed by a coalition of 25 legislators and more than 200 nonprofits that include clinics and tribal organizations — say they’ve strengthened their proposal with additional accountability measures.

Key changes include more details about an oversight committee comprised of representatives from public health organizations, nonprofits and others that will ensure accountability in the distribution of grants and an independent contractor that will collect data to measure effectiveness of projects funded.

“We definitely understood that the state of California, when they’re funding different programs like this, they want to know what they’re buying,” said Ronald Coleman, the managing director of policy for the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, a co-sponsor of the proposal.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office this week issued a recommendation for legislators to maintain a “high threshold for new proposals” in the 2022-2023 budget, warning that the financial windfall won’t continue.

“In the interest of fiscal resilience, the Legislature should consider rejecting a substantial portion of the Governor’s January spending proposals,” legislative analyst Gabriel Petek wrote in his fiscal outlook.

Such fiscal tightening for programs already in the governor’s budget proposal could suggest that this won’t be the year for an extra $100 million for the California Health Equity and Racial Justice Fund.

But if not now, then when?

As proposed, the fund would be housed within the Office of Health Equity in the state Department of Public Health and would hand out grants to community-based organizations working on the front lines and experiencing the brunt of health and racial disparities.

Study after study has shown the disproportionate burden on Black, Latino, Pacific Islander and Native American communities. We’ve long known that underserved communities suffer from higher rates of death and disease from preventable conditions such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, heart disease and asthma. These are often caused or exacerbated by high unemployment and low wages endemic in marginalized communities, leading to housing and food insecurity. And let’s not forget that many of these residents are still dealing with the effects of COVID-19.

 


The pandemic uncovered a number of inequities that we know existed for quite a long time. These inequities are directly related to racism and institutional disparities.”

~ Ronald Coleman, the managing director of policy for the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network

 

We’re talking about some of the most challenging, entrenched problems in a state that’s the most diverse in the nation.  Conditions that, if allowed to fester, will only grow to gargantuan, more expensive proportions.

A new poll by the UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies shows that the coronavirus no longer tops the list of concerns for a majority of California voters, indicating that many are ready to move on. But a large segment of Californians, predominantly Latino and Black residents, can’t move forward. That’s because the conditions that caused the higher rates of COVID-related deaths persist.

“The pandemic uncovered a number of inequities that we know existed for quite a long time. These inequities are directly related to racism and institutional disparities,” Coleman said. “Because of that we think the state of California should be dedicating funds to ensure that community-based organizations can maximize their reach.”

Let’s consider what some of these organizations, all supporters of the proposed fund, are doing to attack the problems plaguing their communities.

In Midway City and Westminster in Orange County, Abrazar Inc. sponsors health fairs that include mobile vaccination clinics and offers dental services in Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean and English.

In Eureka, the nonprofit Cooperation Humboldt is making up for a shortfall of social workers, clinicians and counselors by training residents to become “community health workers” who can connect people in need with health care and social services in the Northern California counties of Humboldt, Del Norte and Trinity.
 


“Local groups have built relationships with local underserved populations. They are people that these communities trust and are more likely to receive care from.”

~ Nambi Ndugga, policy analyst with Kaiser Family Foundation’s Racial Equity and Health Policy Program

 
And in San Diego County, the Urban Collaborative Project helps residents establish community gardens and advocate for stocking fresh food in the few supermarkets that exist in low income neighborhoods.

The projects conducted by nonprofits in disadvantaged communities are crucial because they often combat problems that, left unsolved, become bigger and costlier. Many of these organizations have stepped up at the height of the pandemic, handing out food to needy residents and setting up mobile vaccination clinics. These clinics, coupled with outreach conducted by nonprofits to combat misinformation, have been key in increasing vaccination rates, helping the state get through the worst of the pandemic.

“We saw a dramatic increase in vaccinations,” said Nambi Ndugga, a policy analyst with Kaiser Family Foundation’s Racial Equity and Health Policy Program. “Local groups have built relationships with local underserved populations. They are people that these communities trust and are more likely to receive care from.”
 


Nonprofits know where the worst inequities exist and have already been implementing solutions. They usually comprise staff and volunteers from the places they serve, thereby involving the most affected parties — the communities themselves.


 
These nonprofits have an established record of success and shown they’re trusted providers in their communities. This year’s more muscular proposal for a California Health Equity and Racial Justice Fund should satisfy even the strict dictates recommended by the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

In his assessment, legislative analyst Gabriel Petek recommends that legislators give the green light only to projects that meet a three-part test. Projects should tackle “well-defined problems” with cost effective and proven solutions, lessen future budget problems and result in other fiscal benefits.

The nonprofits know where the worst inequities exist and have already been implementing solutions. These organizations usually comprise staff and volunteers from the places they serve, thereby involving the most affected parties — the communities themselves. And anyone who has ever worked or volunteered for a nonprofit knows that such organizations usually know how to stretch a dollar like a rubber band.

Further, fund guidelines stipulate that a panel that would be created if the fund is approved, the Oversight and Accountability Committee, would ensure fiscal accountability. About 55% of the fund’s monies would provide health equity grants, with the remaining 45% going toward racial justice projects. In addition, fund sponsors say that every geographic region in the state would be represented. 

To be fair, Newsom has been willing to put dollars into combatting existing inequities. His January budget proposal is sprinkled with countless mentions of the word “equity” and contains projects designed to address disparities.

Newsom requests $130 million for a program to train English language learners to work in health care, thereby increasing language and cultural diversity in this industry. He acknowledges the disparate impact of climate change on vulnerable populations by requesting $350 million to train and certify 25,000 community health care workers to work on climate health, homelessness and dementia.

These are laudable efforts, necessarily a part of the gradual application of solutions to ease racial health and justice disparities in California. But such programs don’t emanate from the communities themselves, those most affected and most knowledgeable about the problems and solutions.

It’s beyond time that the governor officially acknowledges the crucial and lifesaving role of nonprofits in their communities by creating the California Health Equity and Racial Justice Fund. The grant program would provide nonprofits direct funding to help solve the problems they are seeing on a day-to-day basis.

“I think, if we’re unsuccessful….in the May revise,” Coleman said, “we will continue pushing the governor and working with the Legislature. Because we know communities can’t continue on the pathway they’re on.”
 


 
Copyright 2022 Capital & Main

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