On March 30th, Catalyst California’s RACE COUNTS initiative hosted COVID-19: Prioritizing an Equitable Recovery for Our Highest-Need Communities. This thought-provoking webinar leveraged data on the COVID-19 pandemic to support community partners’ work with county officials to ensure that 2021 American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds are equitably distributed to support highest-need communities.
Webinar highlights include:
- Key findings from our COVID-19: Statewide Vulnerability & Recovery Index (Index),
- An overview of the ARP and lessons learned from the 2020 CARES Act,
- Insight from our partner, Alianza Coachella Valley, on how to organize to ensure that pandemic-related policies improve the lives of marginalized communities, and
- Concrete recommendations for local budget advocacy and equity-driven COVID-19 policies.
In addition, attendees were given fact sheets that can be used to support pandemic-related organizing and advocacy efforts in five counties: Fresno, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Joaquin.
Here is a summary of important information covered in the webinar:
COVID-19: Statewide Vulnerability & Recovery Index
Our online interactive Index can be used to identify communities most in need of immediate and long-term pandemic and economic relief. The Index shows that Latinx, Black, American Indian and Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Californians are both disproportionately harmed by the pandemic and most at-risk of suffering from the pandemic’s health and socioeconomic devastation.
The 2021 American Rescue Plan (ARP) & Local Government Budgeting
The ARP is a $1.9 trillion federal relief package. It provides $350 billion in emergency funding for state, local, tribal, and U.S. territory governments. The ARP’s local aid funding more than doubles what was provided under the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and nearly 40 percent of that aid will go to local governments.
Based on the CARES Act, key lessons to be aware of for the ARP include:
- Lack of Process & Spending Transparency: Given the constricted CARES Act timeline, localities adopted spending plans quickly, hindering advocates from engaging and informing spending decisions.
- Limited Community Engagement: Policymakers, department heads, city managers, and county executives have been primary decision-makers.
- City vs. County Implementation: Cities with equity-focused investments benefitted from robust community advocacy; counties are challenging targets given their size, reach, and public health functions.
- Structural Challenges, Insufficient Relief & Inequitable Recovery: COVID-19 deepened structural budget challenges that will take many years for localities to recover from. We are witnessing the compounded effect that a lack of equity focus creates—many communities have not seen relief, which contributes to an inequitable recovery.
- Justice Reinvestment as a Path Forward: Justice reinvestment presents a compelling solution to equitable budget recovery. This means reinvesting resources traditionally used to criminalize low-income communities of color (e.g., over-policing and -incarceration) in supports and services that better reflect our collective long-term socio-economic welfare.
Local Budget Advocacy
- Keep Advocacy Goals Tightly Focused on Equity: Leverage data (like RACE COUNTS’ Index) and narratives about lived experiences to ensure that communities most impacted by COVID-19 are prioritized for relief funds and recovery efforts. In addition, to improve the process for allocating ARP funds, community members should work with policymakers to ensure that budgeting processes are open and accessible to the public, entail robust community outreach and participation, and are geared towards highest-need communities.
- Redefine Relief & Recovery Narratives: While the ARP offers one-time relief, advocates should make sure that investments go towards building an inclusive, equitable, and comprehensive recovery.
- Invest in Holistic Health & Divest from Harmful “Justice” Models: Recovery funds must include closing care gaps and eliminating racial, health, gender, and economic injustices exacerbated by the pandemic. Investment in our health care system must be paired with divestment from suppression to repair racialized harm for Black, Indigenous, immigrant, and undocumented communities.
- Aligning Community + Building Alliances = Focusing Power: Broad, supportive coalitions are essential to building and sustaining people power. It is critical to advocate for a comprehensive vision that pulls people together and debunks the scarcity mentality.
Pandemic Relief & Recovery Policies
- Equitable Vaccine Distribution: Because of structural racism—such as barriers in access to health care, jobs and living wages, housing, and education—people of color are being vaccinated at rates far lower than whites, despite being more at risk of COVID-19 infection, serious illness, or death. To offset this, local government should prioritize vaccinating people who are more at risk and create systems that remove barriers to getting vaccinated that disproportionately impact low-income communities of color. A prime example of this is the use of mobile vaccination clinics.
- Community-Based COVID-19 Response Teams: Funds should be distributed to community-based organizations that serve highest-need communities by providing outreach and education on public health guidance and vaccine access, and that connect residents to COVID-related resources, such as rent assistance for housing stability, or providing access to food and internet service.
- Safety for Essential Workers: Our front-line services workforce is disproportionately comprised of low-income people of color who keep our society running. They deliver our mail, groceries, and online purchases, provide care for the elderly, and offer a whole host of other services and supports. Funds should be directed to ensure that essential workers are safe. This includes providing medical-grade masks and monetary stipends or “hero” pay.
- Support for Youth Mental Health: The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the mental health of youth of color, especially those in highest-need communities. Children of color have been removed from ordinary social interactions key to their development and are experiencing significant anxiety because of extreme isolation. Many Latinx and Black youth cannot participate in online distance learning because of structural barriers (such as lack of access to computers and internet service) and simultaneously must take care of younger siblings because their parents are essential workers who cannot afford to stay home. To address these issues, pandemic relief funds should be used to provide trauma-informed care and education to protect the long-term mental health of children from highest-need communities.
- Provide Housing Assistance & Security: People in highest-need communities experience higher levels of poverty, homelessness, and housing insecurity. Many also live in overcrowded, multigenerational households which makes them more at-risk of COVID-19 infection. In addition to canceling rent and mortgage obligations, funding should be used to provide housing assistance and preclude evictions for families in highest-need communities.
- Build the Future Resilience of Highest-Need Communities: Public investments should be directed to improve the long-term overall socio-economic well-being of communities with an Index Recovery Need score in the top 20th percentile.
Low-income communities of color have been devastated by the pandemic and are in dire need of immediate relief and long-term recovery support. The 2021 American Rescue Plan is a meaningful response, but we must apply significant attention to ensure that the ARP’s implementation truly advances racial equity. RACE COUNTS’ COVID-19: Vulnerability & Recovery Index should be leveraged to target the distribution of ARP funds to the highest-need communities. In addition, the above recommendations on local budget advocacy, and pandemic relief and recovery policies should be adopted to protect the short and long-term health and socioeconomic welfare of highest-need communities.