Now is the time for the Health Equity Fund

A scene along Anaheim Street, a main artery in Wilmington. (Photo: Matt Gush)

There’s no question that communities of color — like the areas where I grew up and represent today, such as Watts, Wilmington and Compton, for example — have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s past due for us to right this injustice.

This is why I’m championing a proposal to create the California Health Equity Fund, so we can start to remedy the massive injustices in health we’ve long seen in my District and throughout the state.

Why have communities of color – Black, Latino, and API – suffered more than others during the pandemic? The answer lies in the complex web of community conditions in which people live their lives.

People of color keep our cities running – staying home during COVID-19 was not an option for us.

These range from whether you have a roof over your head, safe care when you are young, access to education or to healthy food, dignified job opportunities, and other measures that impact our day-to-day lives and well-being. Institutionalized racism is deeply reflected in each of these.

People of color keep our cities running – staying home during COVID-19 was not an option for us. However, our essential work and frequent underlying illnesses left us more likely to die from the virus. When we come home, many return to overcrowded housing, the only kind that can be afforded on low wages, and a key driver of the spread of the coronavirus.

Even before the pandemic, residents of Watts died 12 years earlier than residents of Brentwood. In Compton, residents are twice as likely to die earlier than in other parts of Los Angeles County. We will see the impact of this traumatic pandemic for years to come.

Our request would provide funds over three years and reach the 6 million California residents hardest hit by COVID-19.

Government agencies and nonprofits have been calling out the enormous unfairness of health conditions for years. But time and time again, we did not invest the resources to advance transformative change in these communities to move the needle. It takes sustained and significant investment to change the nature of our communities, to disrupt the patterns of structural racism and social injustice that lead to poor health outcomes. We need to invest in our community leaders and institutions to come together and address the conditions that allowed the virus to flourish.

Assembly Bill 1038 and its accompanying budget request will invest in the short and long-term by creating the California Health Equity Fund. This will help lift low-income and communities of color out of the pandemic and strengthen them for the long-term, making them more resilient to future crises.

Our request would provide funds over three years and reach the 6 million California residents hardest hit by COVID-19. The Fund will award grants to community-based nonprofit organizations, clinics, tribal organizations, and local health departments across the state that are already working to change conditions in their communities.

Selected organizations will use strategies tailored to their communities to ensure programs go beyond immediate needs and truly address the root causes of health inequities. It will create a paradigm shift in how we invest in the health of our state as a whole. It will also require an oversight body to report back to the state Legislature within 18 months with a proposal for how to create a system of long-term, sustained funding for health equity.

The California Health Equity Fund will expand public health infrastructure by supporting community-determined initiatives to address social determinants of health, improve health outcomes, and build a more just and healthy future. I call on my colleagues in the Legislature and Gov. Newsom to pass AB 1038 and the accompanying funding, without delay. If not now, after a pandemic, when?

Editor’s Note: Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-Carson), represents the 64th District. He currently serves as chair of the Assembly Democratic Caucus.

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