Legislature urges Newsom to “reinforce” racism as a public health issue

SACRAMENTO – Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers declared racism a public health crisis following the murder of George Floyd, a black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer last year. The governors of Michigan and Nevada quickly followed, as did the legislatures in Minnesota, Virginia and Washington, DC

However, California Governor Gavin Newsom, who rules one of the most racially and ethnically diverse populations in the United States, does not.

Not waiting for Newsom to make a statement, state Democratic lawmakers are urging first-term Democrats to allocate $ 100 million a year from the state budget beginning July 1, to help new health justice programs and experimentation become more social Funding justice that could contribute to the breakdown of systemic racism. Funding opportunities include converting parking lots in low-income neighborhoods into green spaces and providing funds to community clinics to distribute fresh fruits and vegetables to their patients.

Legislature says Covid’s disproportionate impact on California’s black and Latin American residents, who experienced higher disease and death rates, make their demand even more pressing.

“Covid exposed the inequalities of the segregated California of the past that are still having an impact today and that we can correct if we focus on justice,” said Mike Gipson (D-Carson), member of the congregation who led the funding boost. “We need to build a healthier society that works for everyone.”

The legislature advocates the money in its negotiations with the governor over the state budget for 2021-22. The legislature has to pass a draft budget for the fiscal year beginning on July 1st by June 15th. Once Newsom receives the bill, it has 12 days to get it into effect.

The $ 100 million proposal to tackle the health effects of racism is part of the broader public health agenda of the Democrat-controlled legislature, which proposes an annual request for $ 235 million to rebuild gutted local health agencies, 15 million US dollars a year for transgender health care and 10 million to set up an independent “Racial Justice Bureau” that would seek to identify and combat racism in government spending and politics.

Healthcare advocacy groups say investment is critical to addressing inequality in society and the health system, which has contributed not only to higher covid rates in disadvantaged communities, but also to chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

“Those who got sick and lost their jobs were mostly colored communities, so it is unreasonable not to see new investment from the governor to really fight racial equality,” said Ronald Coleman, managing director of policy for the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network Newsom last July in a letter calling on it to declare racism a public health crisis.

Newsom made no commitments to support the funding, but said it would be “very careful” when negotiating with lawmakers. One proposal that Newsom and state lawmakers agree is to fund a chief equity officer to address racial disparities within the state government.

Newsom pointed out other budget proposals he has made, including $ 600 economic aid payments to households below $ 75,000, rental and utility bills, and an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program for low-income residents called Medi- Cal, to unauthorized immigrants ages 60 and older.

Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said the May 2020 assassination of George Floyd motivated state and local lawmakers to Look at racism from a public health perspective – which could have helped save lives during the Covid pandemic. “We’re at a turning point,” said Benjamin. “It’s important to first acknowledge that racism is real, but then it requires doing something about it. We are now seeing that other states are starting to put money and resources behind the words. “

Several California cities and counties have declared racism a public health crisis, including Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties. But those statements would make more sense if backed by an infusion of government funds, say health care proponents.

“We have to be willing to invest money in innovative approaches to combating racism, just as we invest in stem cells, and we have to be willing to accept that some of the things we try work and some don’t,” said Kiran Savage -Sangwan, executive director of the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network.

Should Newsom sign the funding, health clinics, Indian tribes and community-based organizations would receive grants to develop programs to combat racism and health inequalities.

The Community Coalition in South Los Angeles, a non-profit organization that originally set out decades ago to fight the crack epidemic, has expressed interest in applying.

“There are so many vacant lots in South Los Angeles that could be turned into mini parks. This not only helps with physical health, but also with mental health, ”said Marsha Mitchell, director of communications for the organization. “We have very few grocery stores, and if you live in Compton or South Los Angeles your life expectancy is nearly seven years lower than in Santa Monica, Beverly Hills or Malibu.”

Dedicating more resources to fight racism could backfire, in part because voters, including some Democrats, have shown skepticism about some of the liberal and expensive policies being pursued by the Democrats who control Sacramento, Mike Madrid said, a Sacramento-based Republican political advisor who also worked for the Democrats.

He referred to Proposition 16, the November 2020 polling initiative that would have repealed California’s 1996 Positive Action Ban Act, 57% 43% opposed.

“Racism is, to a large extent, a public health problem – just look at the chronic illnesses and lower life expectancy of blacks and browns, and most people believe that racism is systemic in our governance,” said Madrid. “But voters are becoming increasingly critical of how racism is used by politicians to advance an agenda.”

Too much focus on racism could create a backlash, he said, “while focusing on poverty and inequality would solve many of the racial problems.”

But state Senator Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), who leads efforts to establish a Racial Justice Bureau, said funding and state leadership, which is heavily focused on structural racism, are essential to end it. Should the office not be funded in budget, Pan said he would submit an invoice.

The office would work with the state’s new chief equity officer to investigate the California government, including state hiring practices, legislative proposals, and budget spending decisions, for signs of racism or inequality.

With hate crimes against people of Asian descent on the rise, it is a priority for the legislative caucus of Asian and Pacific islanders, Pan said.

“We need to invest more in prevention,” said Pan. “The state must strengthen itself and support color communities.”

This story was produced by KHN, an editor of California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health topics. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operational programs of the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is a non-profit foundation that provides the country with information on health issues.


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