By Bo Tefu, California Black Media
California Gov. Gavin Newsom last week announced a $100 billion economic recovery plan to support small businesses and public schools, as well as Black and Brown families that were disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We here to make sure we’re there for the most vulnerable who were impacted by this pandemic and that’s low-income individuals disproportionately represented in the Latino and African American communities,” said Gov. Newsom.
The California Comeback Plan includes a $12 billion state tax rebate and additional funds for stimulus checks and rent relief programs. Although the state expanded stimulus checks to middle-class families, state officials say the recognize that Black and Brown communities were the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Newsom says his plan includes targeted investments in diverse communities to promote health equity, secure housing, a holistic education system, and public safety.
“Operating surpluses are not the new norm, we’re not naive about that,” Gov. Newsom.
“That’s why we want to continue our prudent fiscal practices by building up our reserves and our resiliency, across the spectrum, and use one-time money for one-time purposes,” he said.
The plan proposes the following key investments in Black and Brown communities the governor’s office says will address major challenges accelerated by COVID-19. Broadly, they include support for small businesses; improving access to healthcare; investments in vocational education; expanding affordable housing and housing assistance programs; increased financing of higher education; enhancing worker protection, and more.
The state has also allocated $8.1 billion in stimulus funds for families including middle-class families earning less than $75,000 in annual household income. Based on the recent expansion, two-thirds of people in California will receive $600 stimulus checks and families with children will receive an additional $500.
The proposed plan will provide $5.2 billion in rent relief for low-income renters to pay back 100 % of their rent from previous months. The funds also include $2 billion for unpaid utility bills and legal assistance for tenants across the state.
The homeless crisis is one of the many persisting problems in California the governor’s Republican opponents say have propelled them to launch a recall effort.
Newsom’s plan will invest $12 billion to address homelessness by building 46,000 housing units expanding Project Homekey, a California grant program that funds counties and cities to acquire hotel rooms as housing for people who are unhoused. Recall efforts have raised questions about accountability measures to keep track of government spending to fix homelessness. However, Newsom emphasized that the state is working to provide accountability measures to ensure that local governments are spending money effectively.
Small businesses will receive $4 billion in direct grants as part of a relief program to help rehire workers displaced by the pandemic. The budget allocates $35 million for the California Dream Fund with $10,000 grants for small businesses serving Black and Brown communities including immigrant populations. Approximately $1 billion will be set aside for job creation and youth employment opportunities to promote economic resilience in Black and Brown communities.
“We want to invest in our small businesses that are really the backbone of our economic recovery,” said Gov. Newsom.
Advocates for racial and health equity shared concerns about the limited access to healthcare for vulnerable populations in Black and Brown communities. The state plans to expand Medi-Cal to people 60 years and older irrespective of their immigration status. Medi-Cal will also cover services offered by doulas and community health workers who work primarily with Black and Brown patients. A total of $70 million will be allotted for educational programs and language services, including $50 million for new graduate medical programs and $20 million to eliminate language barriers in health programs.
Ronald Coleman, the managing director of policy for the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, said that Gov. Newsom should do expand Medi-Cal coverage for all undocumented immigrants.
Health advocates emphasized that the governor missed an opportunity to properly invest in racial equity within the healthcare system and public health. All Black
and Brown immigrants would benefit from the federal government resources through the American rescue plan, and the $22 billion state surplus.
“It’s mind-boggling to us that the governor did not take the opportunity to do more to invest in communities of color, particularly really related to health equity, to ensure that we can reduce healthcare disparities while improving health outcomes in our communities,” said Coleman.
The racial justice movement also intersects with health equity during the pandemic since the majority of essential workers are Black and Brown people.
“Black communities have been hit harder as it relates to those who’ve gotten sick from the Coronavirus, those who’ve lost their jobs from Coronavirus, and also those who’ve lost their lives,” he said.
Coleman noted that another proposal missing from the California Comeback Plan is the California Health Equity Fund. The Public Health Institute partnered with several community-based organizations requesting $180 million to implement strategies for policy, systems, and environmental change that will mitigate the health and social impacts of COVID-19.
Gov. Newsom announced the highest level of funding ever for public education to transform K-12 education and doubled down on funding for state colleges and universities. The state aims to create universal transitional kindergarten for all children. An additional $3.3 billion is included for student support and grants for certified teachers in high-needs schools. Additional funds will be allocated to summer and after-school programs to take care of vulnerable students from underserved communities. A lump sum of $4 billion will be allotted over a span of five years to treat behavioral health issues for minors and young adults between the ages of 0 to 25 years.
Students enrolled in higher education, including immigrants, will have access to financial aid, secure housing, and resources for textbooks and learning materials. Approximately $4 billion will be allocated to support student housing projects to help curb the high cost of housing. College service programs will receive $285 million for college scholarships and stipends. An additional $100 million will be dedicated to student support services and learning materials such as textbooks. English language courses and vocational programs will receive $50 million in funding to help students receive credentials at community colleges.
The state’s efforts to encourage environmental health include a $500 million to clean up contaminated sites across California. An additional $500 million will be allotted to fund community-based violence prevention initiatives, recreational and outdoor activities, youth development programs, and emergency response networks.
State officials continue to partner with community-based organizations to build trust and resilience in Black and Brown communities to help promote equity.