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U.S. infrastructure bill marks the beginning of a journey, not the end of a debate

Western Center’s Executive Director Crystal D. Crawford, JD, and Manal J. Aboelata, MPH, Deputy Executive Director at Prevention Institute and author of a new book, Healing Neighborhoods, reflect on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and what this once-in-a-generation public investment could mean for ensuring all Americans the human right to live in a healthy neighborhood.

As we reflect on the historic $1.2 trillion infrastructure spending bill President Biden signed into law at the end of last year, we’re acutely aware of the promise and peril this massive public investment holds for people in the United States. As residents and professionals who live and work in LA County, we witness firsthand the challenges and opportunities that arise when large sums of taxpayer dollars become available to improve neighborhood conditions.

In 2016, LA County voters got behind a series of ballot measures to fund high quality transportation, safe and well-maintained parks and open space, quality housing and supportive services, and storm water management systems—to the tune of $1.5 billion per year.

Our experience in LA has many lessons to offer. Just like now, the promise is a tremendous opportunity to direct public funds to where they are most needed and make a positive difference in people’s daily lives. The peril, like now, is a failure to reckon with the legacy of segregation and its far-reaching intergenerational effects on community health, safety, and well-being.

It takes years, if not decades, to see the impacts of infrastructure spending. Past measures show us that investing in the status quo can reinforce and exacerbate “winners” and “losers.” Public investments must proactively prioritize funding in the highest need communities and inclusive engagement processes.

We know that our most disenfranchised communities could immediately put government resources toward essential health-promoting infrastructure. And yet, there are few guarantees that public dollars will flow toward the communities that need them most without strategic advocacy, grassroots organizing, and sometimes litigation.

As hard as it was to secure 228 congressional votes from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, it’s no wonder President Biden, Vice President Harris, and House Speaker Pelosi hail the infrastructure bill as a major victory. But our experiences in LA demonstrate that the passage of the law is a beginning, not an end. The long road to equitable implementation lies ahead. Delivering on the full promise of this much-needed law requires a fair, just, and equitable distribution of these public resources.

From 2018-2020, as a Stanton Fellow of the Durfee Foundation, Manal embarked on a journey to better understand what it would take to proactively invest public resources in LA’s marginalized neighborhoods to improve conditions for health, safety, and well-being in Black and Brown communities. She documented her observations in Healing Neighborhoods, a groundbreaking new book that provides a framework and insights that resonate with the moment in which we find ourselves.

The “6 Levers for Tackling Inequities in Public Finance Measures” outlined in Healing Neighborhoods increase the likelihood that dollars will get to where they are needed most:

  1. Ensure clear funding guidelines, set asides, and earmarks to prioritize historically disinvested low-income communities and communities of color;
  2. Design and implement high quality technical assistance programs to proactively support and engage under-resourced Black and brown communities;
  3. Create funding programs that remove barriers to community-based organizations and low-wealth jurisdictions so that they can compete for public dollars;
  4. Include racially, ethnically and economically diverse community residents in the process using popular, multicultural and multi-lingual engagement strategies;
  5. Bake accountability and transparency measures into the system to ensure that taxpayers and lawmakers can see how money is spent, and make course corrections if gaps are not closing;
  6. Make data on all aspects of implementation available in timely and easy to understand formats.

As with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2008, there will be tremendous pressure to get shovels in the ground for shovel-ready projects. The risk of over focusing dollars on shovel-ready projects to show near-term results, however, is that ideas and places that already have less infrastructure capacity will continue to be left behind and public dollars will default to existing programs and traditional resource flows.

COVID-19 and the nation’s racial reckoning have made it clear that to thrive, our nation needs healthier, safer, and more equitable conditions and outcomes. To get there, we’ll have to spend in new ways, proactively driving dollars to the neighborhoods that need them most.

What we’ve learned in LA is that it is incumbent on all of us—residents, advocates, public health practitioners, racial justice leaders and social justice lawyers–to stay focused and vigilant in the days, months, and years ahead. Public money and public trust hang in the balance. We hope that when future generations look back on this historic bill signing, they recognize it as a turning point toward health equity, racial justice, financial security, and community stability in this country.

For more information about Healing Neighborhoods, or to print your own copy, go to: Healing Neighborhoods.

 

 

 

 

Emprenden acciones legales por supuestos retrasos en los beneficios de CalFresh

“Estos son los datos autoinformados del condado, y son asombrosos”, dijo Alex Prieto, abogado del Western Center on Law & Poverty. “Cada vez que el condado no procesa una solicitud a tiempo, pone a las personas en peligro de pasar hambre y empuja a los padres a una lucha devastadora para satisfacer las necesidades más básicas de sus hijos”.

Emprenden acciones legales por supuestos retrasos en los beneficios de CalFresh

PRESS RELEASE: LA County Sued for Failing to Provide Timely Emergency Food Assistance to Eligible Households

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Lawsuit accuses county of violating state and federal laws mandating expedited processing of CalFresh food benefits

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County fails to comply with California’s requirement that counties expedite the processing of urgent applications for CalFresh (formerly known as food stamps). The neediest CalFresh applicants – those whose income is less than $150 per month and who have less than $100 in resources, or whose housing costs are more than their income and resources — are entitled to have their applications processed within three days. But in Los Angeles, thousands of vulnerable households are going hungry each month because the county fails to process their applications on time.

Now, two organizations fighting hunger in Los Angeles and one CalFresh recipient who had to wait over a month for CalFresh when he and his father had no money for food are suing the county, demanding that it comply with its obligation to grant expedited access to critical food benefits.

The lawsuit—filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court by Hunger Action Los Angeles, Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN), and Peter Torres-Gutierrez —includes data showing the county has been in violation of both state and federal law for months. Federal law mandates that expedited food assistance benefits be provided in no more than seven days, and California sets the limit for urgent applications at three days.

“CalFresh is our first and best line of defense against hunger; if it doesn’t function properly thousands can be left with no means to get basic food,” said Frank Tamborello, Executive Director at Hunger Action Los Angeles. “When someone is hungry, every hour matters. It’s unconscionable that in Los Angeles County, the most vulnerable people have to wait for weeks to get access to something as basic as food assistance.”

“Hunger is real, and it has gotten worse during the pandemic,” said Todd Cunningham, Food and Wellness Organizer with Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN). “These county delays make it harder for people—especially houseless people—to access food and take care of their health.”

In September 2021, the county failed to meet the state’s three-day timeline for nearly one-third of all eligible applicants, leaving over 4,900 individuals and families who qualify for expedited benefits without access to CalFresh. In August, the numbers were even worse: the county left more than half of eligible households without access to CalFresh, forcing over 7,600 individuals and families to go hungry. Over the last year, the County has violated its duty to more than 54,000 households, forcing some applicants to wait more than a month to receive emergency food assistance.

“This is the county’s self-reported data, and it’s staggering,” said Western Center on Law & Poverty attorney Alex Prieto. “Each time the county fails to process an application on time, it puts people in danger of hunger and pushes parents into a devastating struggle to provide for their children’s most basic needs.”

“The harms that result when people—especially children—go hungry are significant and far-reaching. Even short periods of hunger can have profound and long-lasting effects on an individual’s physical and mental health,” said Lena Silver, an attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA). “People who are eligible for expedited service CalFresh are already in desperate financial situations. We are bringing this lawsuit to force the County to comply with the law, to ensure that every eligible individual and family gets the food they need when they need it – and not a minute later.”

Read the full complaint here.

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Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA) is a steadfast advocate for individuals, families, and communities throughout Los Angeles County.   Each year NLSLA provides free assistance to more than 100,000 people through innovative projects that address the most critical needs of people living in poverty. Through a combination of individual representation, high impact litigation and public policy advocacy, NLSLA combats the immediate and long-lasting effects of poverty and expands access to health, opportunity, and justice in Los Angeles’ diverse neighborhoods.

Public Interest Law Project (PILP) advances justice for low-income people and communities by building the capacity of legal services organizations through impact litigation, trainings, and publications, and by advocating for low-income community groups and individuals.

Western Center on Law & Poverty fights in courts, cities, counties, and in the Capitol to secure housing, health care and a strong safety net for Californians with low incomes, through the lens of economic and racial justice.