By Monica Lozano and Miguel A. Santana
The American Rescue Plan Act signed in March directs $151 billion to California. These funds will play a critical role in our state’s recovery from the pandemic and recession—and in ensuring future prosperity. But this recovery will only be successful now and sustainable long-term if state leaders are guided by equity, both in allocating funds and in decisions we make moving forward. In leading organizations fighting for greater racial, social, and economic justice, we have seen first-hand what it costs our state when we treat equity as a “nice to have;” it is not a cost California can continue to bear.
But what does equity look like in practice? It means focusing dollars in the hardest-hit communities and cooperating across systems and institutions. We must not treat relief efforts as a one-time back-fill to budget cuts, but an opportunity to fundamentally reimagine and improve our systems to serve us all— including and especially those who face the biggest barriers to accessing good health, education, and jobs.
Focus dollars in communities hardest hit.
COVID-19 forced California into a rapid response to address a homelessness crisis that has been building for decades. Programs that sprung out of the pandemic like Project Roomkey and Project Homekey demonstrated that we can act quickly to respond in a coordinated fashion at scale. Additional federal dollars must be used with this same urgency to connect immediate relief to long-term systemic change. As the Committee for Greater LA shared in our No Going Back report, focus needs to be placed on building permanent supportive housing at scale and providing rent and mortgage relief to keep families housed. Ultimately, we need to fundamentally reimagine a systems-level approach to addressing and preventing homelessness and building housing that prioritizes the needs of Black, Indigenous, and Latino Californians who have been hardest hit by this cascade of systems failures.
Education is an essential pathway to opportunity—and a robust and inclusive economy and society. California’s college students are supporting parents, caring for children, and working full-time. Too many live in poverty and are housing- and food-insecure. We are heartened to see that $5 billion in recovery funds were directed toward colleges, with the majority going directly to students. When College Futures Foundation joined with peer funders last April to launch the California College Student Emergency Support Fund, we learned first-hand the imperative to focus direct benefits where there is greatest need —particularly among community college students and students responsible for supporting their families —and for holistic support beyond tuition. We are glad to see our state government propose muchneeded continued direct aid to students, and urge those administering funds to be guided by equity.
Cooperate across systems.
Where individual institutions may decide how to spend relief dollars, they should coordinate and leverage others’ investments.
Tackling the digital divide should be a priority for California; making headway will require us to work across systems and align federal, state, and private investments. Lack of equitable access to broadband and devices has deepened divides in access to jobs, education, health and financial services, and social connections for many—acutely so this past pandemic year. To make a dent, we need to ensure that emergency broadband dollars are equitably focused and that programs not just targeted but truly accessible to those who need them most.
The only recovery that will be successful is one that is equitable and grapples with the legacy of racism in our systems. The challenges facing people of color and low-income communities aren’t new. We must collectively own the problems and contribute to solutions.
As we actively work towards recovery, policymakers, philanthropists, and institutional leaders must take bold action to reimagine how our systems work for people. California won’t truly recover until we finally serve those hardest hit by the pandemic. Let’s ensure the crisis spurs us towards justice and an equitable future.
Monica Lozano is President and CEO of College Futures Foundation, an organization working in partnership across the state to catalyze systemic change, increase college degree completion, and close equity gaps so that an educational path to opportunity becomes available to every student, regardless of zip code, skin color, or income. She recently served as a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery. Miguel A. Santana is President and CEO of Weingart Foundation, an organization that partners with communities across Southern California to advance racial, social, and economic justice for all. He also serves as Chair of the Committee for Greater L.A.