National Infrastructure Week: Equitable Infrastructure Investments Can Transform Low-Income Communities and Communities of Color

At PolicyLink, we know that smart, targeted, equitable investments in infrastructure can have a transformative impact on low-income communities and communities of color. That’s why we are excited to join equity infrastructure advocates in California, and throughout the nation, for National Infrastructure Week—a time to collectively garner more public awareness and advocacy to support increased investments in infrastructure.

This week we will be posting a new blog each weekday exploring infrastructure equity in our home state of California. We encourage you to share our blog posts with your network and follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #Build4Equity. Also, join the Union of Concerned Scientists and PolicyLink for a twitter chat on Wednesday, May 16 @ 12 pm PT/ 3 pm ET. The discussion will focus on the role of climate smart infrastructure in building community resilience, advancing climate justice, and fostering an inclusive economy. Register today and follow the chat on twitter at #Build4Resilience.

California’s changing demographics and the need for equitable growth

Over the last several decades California has undergone a radical demographic change. Today, people of color represent over 60 percent of all Californians. Because youth are at the forefront of this demographic transformation, there is a racial generation gap between old and young: 62 percent of Californians over age 65 are White, and 73 percent of those under age 18 are of color. Today’s elders and decision makers are not investing in the same educational systems and community infrastructure that enabled their own success. This investment gap puts all of California’s children—and the state’s economy—at risk. A growing body of research tells us that inequality is not only bad for those at the bottom of the income spectrum but subsequently puts everyone’s economic future at risk. Greater income equality contributes to more sustained economic growth and to more robust growth. California’s ability to maintain its leadership in the global economy hinges on its ability to remove barriers and create the conditions that allow all to flourish.

Investing in California’s Future

Unfortunately, California is not doing well. Our state has some of the highest income inequality in the nation and 14 million Californians—over 36 percent of our population and disproportionately people of color—live at or near the poverty level in communities that frequently lack the basic infrastructure of a healthy place. Decades of disinvestment, deeply entrenched patterns of discrimination, and a host of tax and land use laws affecting development patterns have isolated residents of these communities from quality opportunity and services, exposing them to environmental harms, and ultimately shortened lifespans.

Infrastructure is vital for sustaining and reinforcing community. The networks, roads, schools, drinking water, sewer systems, facilities, and properties that comprise public infrastructure define neighborhoods, cities, and regions. Unfortunately, too many Californians live in communities where critical infrastructure is deteriorating or is completely lacking. Residents of these infrastructure deficient places may be unable to access safe and affordable drinking water or wastewater treatment services; connect to good schools and jobs; benefit from libraries, health-care facilities, and emergency services; or safely walk, bike, or play in their neighborhoods. Over the next 10 years, an estimated $750 billion is needed to upgrade and repair our existing facilities and meet the needs of our growing population. While this problem is affecting the entire state, the duel burden of poor infrastructure choices in the past, and insufficient investment in infrastructure for the future falls heaviest on low-income communities and communities of color—the very people who constitute most of our population.

Recently, California has begun to get serious about tackling our infrastructure problems by dedicating new funding to transportation, climate infrastructure, water, schools, and housing. However, in most instances, equity has not been sufficiently incorporated into these discussions or woven into policies and programs. To ensure that our infrastructure investments contribute to a future of shared prosperity we must make sure our investments are guided by principles that expand equity for our most disinvested people and places. Here are four recommendations that can set us in the right direction.

Recommendations:

  • Choose strategies that promote equity and growth simultaneously. Equity and growth have traditionally been pursued separately, but the reality is that both are needed to secure California’s future. The winning strategies are those that maximize job creation while promoting health, resilience, and economic opportunity for low-income workers and communities of color.
  • Target programs and investments to the people and places most left behind. Public resources must be spent wisely. Focusing the state’s programs and investments on climate smart infrastructure that upliftsthe low-income families and communities that have been left behind will produce the greatest returns.
  • Assess equity impacts at every stage of the policy process. As the policy process begins, and throughout, ask who will bene­fit, who will pay, and who will decide; and adjust decisions and policies as needed to ensure equitable impacts.
  • Ensure meaningful community participation, voice, and leadership. California’s new majority needs avenues for participating in all aspects of the political process—from the basic act of voting to serving on boards and commissions to being elected as state leaders. Recognizing historical and ongoing patterns of exclusion and being intentional about establishing transparent processes for low-income communities and communities of color to meaningfully shape infrastructure decisions will lead to better programs and projects.

A half-century ago, California set a precedent for investing in its future—and succeeding. Under the leadership of Republican Governor Earl Warren and Democratic Governor Pat Brown, the state built a world-class education system and infrastructure that enabled a poor, uneducated population to create the world’s ninth largest economy. Bold leadership is needed to build the next economy, and having an equitable and inclusive society results in shared prosperity.

There’s No Need for A Citizenship Question in the Next Census

The announcement by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross that the 2020 Census will agree to the Justice Department’s request and add a question about citizenship is wrong on so many levels that it’s hard to track them all.  The Constitutionally-mandated responsibility of the decennial census is to count all residents, regardless of citizenship, and actions that would interfere with doing that as thoroughly as possible undercut that grave responsibility. 

A question about citizenship would discourage participation in the Census and lead to systematic undercounting of residents and an incomplete, biased picture of who lives in the United States. The consequences of such an undercount would be dire, skewing political representation and the allocation of federal funds. The undercount would affect immigrant communities of color in particular. For example, as the First Focus Campaign for Children put it, “For Hispanic children, the problem of being undercounted is exacerbated by a recent decision from the Department of Commerce to add a question on citizenship in the 2020 census. Coupling this announcement with aggressive and cruel immigration enforcement tactics currently being undertaken by the Trump administration, the expectation becomes a dramatically reduced participation rate from immigrant and mixed status families who fear the negative repercussions of revealing their immigration status.”

Advocates for an accurate, complete, and fair Census are used to raising their voices to push for more resources to be devoted to outreach, not to warding off bad, inflammatory proposals. But in reacting swiftly to this misguided and cynical step, they have the facts, the Constitution, and the nonpartisan importance of unbiased data on their side. There is no need for a citizenship question in the decadal Census to enforce the Voting Rights Act, as the Justice Department has claimed. There is great risk in adding an untested question at this late stage, jeopardizing years of preparation. We support the lawsuits being filed by several states and other parties and the movement to push Congress to reverse this plan. 

For further information about these efforts, see the following sources:

 

NY Federal Reserve's Search for President Deeply Flawed. Luckily, There's Still Time to Listen to Public and Restart the Process.

If recent reports regarding the selection of the next New York Federal Reserve president are true, the New York Fed Board's failure to listen to the public is deeply disappointing. Community groups, labor unions, and elected officials at the local, state, and federal level were clear about what they wanted: an open and transparent process with significant public involvement that results in someone who prioritizes full employment, is an effective regulator of large financial institutions, and represents the diversity of the district. 

These requests have apparently been ignored, and the consequences could be devastating for the over 100 million Americans who are economically insecure and striving to access quality jobs and rising wages.

The president of the New York Fed has tremendous influence on economic policy in part because that leader gets a permanent seat on the committee that votes on interest rates. John Williams, the presumptive new president, has underestimated maximum employment for years. In March 2015, Williams said we were close to full employment when the overall unemployment rate was 5.5 percent and Black unemployment was 10.4 percent. As Matthew Yglesias points out, if Williams had been at the helm of the New York Fed over the last couple of years and successfully raised interest rates in the way that he called for, millions of people would have remained either locked out of the labor market or stuck with flat paychecks.

The perspectives of low-income and working-class people matter because they have a pulse on the real employment situation in America and how to maximize our human potential. They know that while the headline unemployment number may be low at just above 4 percent, that number hides the reality of persistent joblessness and racial inequity in the labor market. They know that we can do better than 6.9 percent unemployment in the Black community. They weighed in on the New York Fed process because they are the ones whose livelihoods are on the line when officials choose to err on the side of higher unemployment. 

The New York Federal Reserve Board still has time to listen to the public and restart the process. If the New York Fed chooses to appoint Williams, I believe a vetting of the process and the candidate in federal hearings is appropriate, so the public can ask vital questions and get answers from one of the most powerful economic policy makers in America and someone who will have enormous influence over all of our economic lives. 

Announcing the All-In Cities Anti-Displacement Policy Network


At PolicyLink, we know that fighting displacement is not only a moral imperative; it is essential for the future prosperity of our cities and our nation. Living in safe, stable, affordable homes, in healthy neighborhoods connected to opportunities, is necessary for achieving equity.

Which is why we are proud to announce the first 10 cities selected for the inaugural cohort of the All-In Cities Anti-Displacement Policy Network. Leaders from these cities -- including local elected officials, city staff, and community leaders – will work together over the next year on strategies to fight displacement and build inclusive, prosperous cities.

The cities are: Austin, TX; Boston, MA; Buffalo, NY; Denver, CO; Nashville, TN; Philadelphia, PA; Portland, OR; San José, CA; Santa Fe, NM; and the twin cities of Minnesota (Minneapolis and Saint Paul).

This network will provide an opportunity to not only advance work in these places, but to capture and share out innovative practices to communities across the country. Read more about the network at All-In Cities.

This network is generously supported by JPMorgan Chase & Co. and The Kresge Foundation.  
 

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The Wait for an Infrastructure Proposal Is Over…and the News Isn’t Good!

The waiting is over and the result is painful. For a little over a year, the current administration has alluded to plans to address the nation’s infrastructure crisis. The allusions have become real and reveals contempt for people of color, poor and working-class communities, and the middle class.

The creation and maintenance of a strong infrastructure requires a partnership between the federal government and localities across the country. It is underscored by a mutual commitment to fixing infrastructure, addressing health and environmental threats, and delivering quality jobs for the millions of Americans longing for them.

Instead, this administration is shirking its responsibilities by reversing the 50-year commitment of investing $4 in federal contribution for every $1 invested by states and localities. The result is an infrastructure proposal that increases inequality and will leave behind even more people and communities in need. The proposal will cut highway and public transportation funding, drain wealth from working people through increased taxes and user fees, and gut vital protections for clean air and water. As a final insult, this proposal bestows a huge handout to Wall Street banks by privatizing roads, transit, water systems, and other public assets.

What we need is access to safe drinking water, affordable transportation, high-speed internet connections, and modern energy systems. Congress must reject the Administration’s Infrastructure Scam. Instead, equitable legislation must be enacted to ensure that the federal government makes a meaningful investment into infrastructure. That is the only way to expand economic opportunity and improve the quality of life for everyone. The nation’s infrastructure needs are serious and failing to address them imperils the health, opportunity, and prosperity of our country today and in the future.

HFFI Bill Would Expand Healthy Food Access, Revitalize Communities

Across the country, nearly 40 million Americans live in rural and urban neighborhoods where easy access to affordable, high-quality, and healthy food is out of reach. A new bill, introduced by Representatives Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Dwight Evans (D-PA), addresses this critical issue by bolstering an existing program that has demonstrated success in improving access to healthy foods and spurring economic revitalization in underserved communities. The “Healthy Food Financing Initiative Reauthorization Act” would reauthorize the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) program at United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of Rural Development, originally established at the agency in the Agricultural Act of 2014.

In 2009, PolicyLink, The Food Trust, and Reinvestment Fund joined forces on a national campaign that, together with diverse partners and stakeholders, led to the launch of the HFFI program at the Departments of Treasury and Health and Human Services in 2011. Building on the success, HFFI’s inclusion in the 2014 Farm Bill came with strong bipartisan support, officially establishing HFFI at USDA and authorizing up to $125 million for the program. In January 2017, USDA announced the selection of Reinvestment Fund to serve as HFFI’s National Fund Manager.

To date, HFFI has invested $220 million in grants and loans to more than 35 states to improve access to healthy food, create and preserve jobs, and revitalize communities. The program’s public-private partnership model has enabled grantees to leverage over $1 billion in additional resources to expand healthy food businesses such as grocery stores, food hubs, co-ops and other enterprises that increase the supply of and the demand for healthy foods in low-income, underserved rural and urban communities. 

HFFI reauthorization and expansion would build on these past successes, as well as broaden and deepen the program’s impact, by targeting areas of the country that still struggle with healthy food access. Rural communities, small towns, and urban areas would benefit from the program’s investments expanding healthy food-related small businesses, strengthening farm to retailer and consumer infrastructure, and supporting local and regional food system development.  

We applaud the ongoing leadership and commitment of Representatives Fudge and Evans, each of whom have served as long-standing champions of HFFI and improving healthy food access.  Representative Fudge played a key leadership role in ensuring funding was authorized for HFFI in the 2014 Farm Bill legislation, and Representative Evans served an instrumental role to launch the highly successful Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative, which served as the original model for the federal HFFI program. 

Innovative programs like HFFI represent critical steps forward to ensure that all communities not only have access to healthy, affordable food, but also benefit from quality jobs, business development opportunities, and other resources needed to create healthy, thriving communities of opportunity.  

Trump’s State of the Union Address Reveals Tremendous Misalignment Between Talk and Action

Last night, during the annual State of the Union address, Trump began his speech with strong statements regarding the desire to be one united country — words that contradict his actions. In the last year we have seen DACA revoked, startling race baiting comments after Charlottesville, the slashing of major funding streams that provide a safety net for millions of Americans, the suspension of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule which promotes fair housing choice and increased opportunity for all residents, the repeal of the Clean Water Rule, and the elimination of various committees and processes that advance greater equity and protect the well-being of our citizens. These actions DO NOT align with a desire for a unified country.

The theme of misalignment between the rhetoric and the practice and/or impact continued throughout the rest of his address. For example, in addition to unity, Trump also spoke at length regarding the economy and touted the recently passed tax bill as providing relief for "hard-working" Americans; when in actuality, the true impact of the tax bill is harmful to many Americans and has already stunted the development of desperately needed affordable housing and community development as outlined in a recent New York Times article.

Lastly, Trump touted his plans for a much-anticipated infrastructure investment, calling for an investment that will "give us the safe, fast, reliable, and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve;" but the proposal shared thus far reveals that Trump's plan inherently promotes economic and regional inequality by:

  • Ignoring people and communities which are most in need of this investment;
  • Providing another windfall for the Administration's wealthy comrades by encouraging the privatization of public systems;
  • Favoring funding mechanisms which are not feasible for the infrastructure investments needed in low-income communities and communities of color; and
  • Providing for minimal federal investment and shifting the cost burden to working families with increases in local and state taxes.

Despite this Administration's divisive and inequitable agenda, we know that millions of Americans are indeed advocating for a more unified State of the Union. We know that the most important thing one can do to strengthen our democracy is to remain engaged, seek understanding and common ground with people with different points of view, and vote for candidates who truly believe in a just and fair society. At PolicyLink, we remain inspired by the courageous actions of so many who work to advance equitable policies and practices, so that all can participate and prosper and reach their full potential.

It takes cash to get lead out of schools

When will California make it a priority to protect our children from the toxic lead contamination in many schools’ water? From the looks of Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget, this threat to students’ health and academic potential remains dangerously underfunded. Read full article on The Sacramento Bee.

Partnering with Grocery Stores to Uplift Philadelphia Communities

By Lauren Vague Stager, Uplift Workforce Solutions

"We ARE here as a group!" is one of the phrases that stuck out as I sat in the classroom of the Uplift Workforce Solutions training center. In early January 2018, the fifth cohort of the program began.  There are 29 people in the group, all with one thing in common: they are all formerly incarcerated. 

Mass incarceration is a pervasive issue, and its devastating effects cannot be overstated.  Getting locked up is just the beginning of the nightmare of incarceration. But what happens when someone is released?  The litany of consequences do not end when someone gets out of jail or prison. It is difficult to get identification, most don't have money or a job, and many people don't even have a place to stay. The Department of Justice estimates that over 10,000 people are released from state and federal lockups each week. In Pennsylvania, over 18,000 are released from prison each year. Here at Uplift Workforce Solutions, we know that in many ways, a re-entering citizen's situation will not change until they have their own source of sustainable and legally secured income. Uplift partners with Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church and Brown's Super Stores so that we can provide guaranteed employment to re-entering citizens in Philadelphia. We are generously supported by the Nerney Family Foundation and the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.  The promise of a job, not just a training program that will help you get a job, is a game changing step.

The program is six weeks, and the subject matter is combined life skills and grocery-specific training, so that both hard and soft skills are assessed and developed over the course of the program.   We have built a simulated supermarket complete with functioning cash registers in our classroom at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, and upon successful completion of the program the participants are placed in a position at either a ShopRite or Fresh Grocer supermarket.

I saw three of the four cohorts complete and graduate from the program last year, the room filling with joy as the participants finish the program knowing that they are all starting a job within the next week. Throughout the program, it has become clear how much the participants and I have in common. Many of the experiences shared by the classes are universal. The cohort spoke about trying to make sure they were a positive part of their children's lives, recognizing when they had done wrong, trying to prove themselves, learning to be comfortable in their own skin, and planning for retirement.  We all have the same hopes and dreams, but trying to achieve our hopes and dreams can sometimes lead us down the wrong path. At Uplift Workforce Solutions, we are reminding our participants of their hopes and dreams, and providing them a job on the way to achieving them.

Uplift is a national non profit organization that focuses on creating access to food, access to healthcare, access to capital and access to jobs in underserved communities. To learn more you can go to http://upliftsolutions.org/ or contact the author, Lauren Vague, at lauren.vague@upliftsolutions.org.

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Healthy Food Access Portal.

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