For Latino health, funding the LWCF is critical

Visitors at Dolores Park in San Francsico on Memorial Day, 2018. (Photo: FTiare, via Shutterstock)

The Latino community in California faces numerous public health inequalities including lack of access to healthcare, limited availability of culturally and linguistically appropriate care, and increasing exposure to the negative effects of climate change. The structural and institutional barriers that produce these inequalities mean poor health outcomes for many Latinos statewide.

Since the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California formed a quarter century ago, we have boldly supported policies to make our state a healthier place for Latinos.

However, access to care is not the only problem the Latino Coalition is fighting to remedy.

Since the program’s inception in 1964, California has seen close to $2.5 billion flow to the state.

Another acute health inequity facing Latinos: woefully inadequate numbers of accessible outdoor activities and parks. With the already high rates of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease facing the community, opportunities for exercise and outdoor endeavors become all the more important.

The good news is that programs and organizations exist to increase access to open spaces and assist in helping to reverse these negative health trends. One of these programs is The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a federal program that utilizes a portion of royalty payments from the depletion of one natural resource – oil and gas – to support the conservation of another precious resource – our land and water.

When fully funded, the program provides up to $900 million annually for our nation’s parks, water and open spaces. Since the program’s inception in 1964, California has seen close to $2.5 billion flow to the state.

The bad news is that politicians in Washington, D.C. are allowing partisanship to disrupt a critical resource for underserved communities. The LWCF expired on September 30th because Congress didn’t act in time, which could have an immensely negative impact on some of our most vulnerable populations if Congress doesn’t reverse course.

Not only has a significant portion of funds have gone to acquire land, preserving our state’s natural treasures for hiking, swimming, and camping but millions of dollars have also been dedicated to build urban recreation opportunities. In California, LWCF has provided approximately $2.4 billion protecting places like Lake Tahoe Basin, California Desert National Parks, and the San Diego and Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuges. LWCF has supported state and local parks such as the American River Parkway in Sacramento as well as our state’s most iconic trails, such as the Pacific Crest Trail.

Parks and recreation areas play a key role in influencing several public health indicators, so the importance of parks in underserved and Latino communities cannot be understated.

Voters in California boldly approved Proposition 68 in June to authorize a new source of funding for state and local parks, and other environmental, water and flood protection projects. Our organization will be one of many holding our elected officials accountable to ensure that they spend those resources in communities most in need.

Access and funding for parks continue to be an integral part to improving health equity for all communities in California. LWCF represents one very important tool that we must fight for. The health of our children and families is too important, and the risk of losing millions of dollars in funding for California’s urban parks is too great to allow LWCF funding to lapse.

We applaud the 39 bipartisan members of California’s congressional delegation who stepped up to cosponsor HR 502, a measure to ensure LWCF continues, and we urge them to continue to fight for our communities and not lose sight of the benefits this program brings to California, especially the underserved. It’s not too late to fund this critical program, and we urge Congress to do so swiftly.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Jeffrey Reynoso is the executive director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California — the only statewide organization with a specific emphasis on Latino health policy. Dr. Reynoso received his doctorate in Public Health from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 

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