GUEST COMMENTARY - We are at an inflection point in LA.
For the majority of Los Angeles County, COVID-19 cases are down, hospitalizations are declining, and the economy is reopening to pre-pandemic levels. Angelenos across the City are returning to their routines with the last two years in their rearview mirror.
But, for the communities hit hardest by the pandemic, the crisis is not over. Many of our essential workers and working-class residents continue to support our economy in person and on the frontline.
The pandemic took a disproportionate toll on LA’s Black, Brown, AAPI, and Indigenous Americans, and our return to normalcy will not be immediate. These communities have suffered from historical disinvestment and the pandemic only exacerbated these inequities.
We've been down this path before. Just 30 years ago, the country witnessed our communities' response to a shameful acquittal and decades-long disinvestment in South LA. The LA uprisings laid bare the significant disparities in access to quality healthcare, housing, jobs, and economic opportunities for our families and communities. During that aftermath, we discussed how we can rebuild and grow jobs in South Central and other working-class communities across the Southland.
Once again, history threatens to repeat itself. The COVID-19 pandemic, like the uprisings, revealed the deep-rooted inequities Los Angeles' working-class residents and communities face.
Last year, Community Coalition, InnerCity Struggle, SEIU 2015, and the Brotherhood Crusade sounded the alarm, launching the Make LA Whole Coalition. We shared the commitment to serve our members and their families through the pandemic and empower them to fight for their communities. Together, we made significant strides during the 2021-2022 appropriations season.
Mayor Eric Garcetti and the LA City Council heard the collective voices of our communities. And they included a historic $170 million investment in priorities advanced by The Make LA Whole Coalition and community members across the City.
The funding targeted job creation, housing, guaranteed income, childcare, and eliminating food insecurity, helping families meet the myriad challenges of day-to-day life in Los Angeles. In the last year, our organizations have witnessed the impact of these critical investments every day in communities like the East San Fernando Valley, South LA and the eastside of Los Angeles.
City Council President Nury Martinez and Councilmember Curren Price made particularly important strides on Guaranteed Basic Income and the Families First Agenda, backing the Coalition’s budget request and moving the City in the right direction.
Unfortunately, the Mayor's FY 2022-2023 budget eliminates an estimated $100 million from the community-based program funding we secured last year. In addition to these significant cuts, there is an increase in the proposed police budget, which we adamantly oppose. Furthermore, they have yet to deliver on our request for transparency, neglecting to provide the public with a precise accounting to see results for dollars spent.
The Mayor's budget, as it stands, would further reinforce the caste system in Los Angeles, where marginalized Black, Brown, AAPI, and Indigenous communities are perpetually blocked from opportunity.
We believe that our City's budget is a reflection of our City's values – and our communities are tired of seeing equity stalled, diminished, and eliminated year after year during the budget season.
When budget cuts happen, equity is the first to go. The challenges confronting our communities are ongoing, and our citizens deserve more than just one-time funding. We ask the City to establish a permanent community investment fund to support and sustain vital equity initiatives.
We must lead this moment with a commitment to restore our families that continue to suffer from deep-rooted inequities in access and opportunities across Los Angeles.
There is no time like the present. The City must acknowledge all the powerful organizing and advocacy efforts underway to build an inclusive and equitable LA. These recommendations reflect the current and ongoing work in communities across the City.
To the City, we say: do not turn your back on us now. Now is the moment to double down on long-term solutions and take proactive steps to avoid past mistakes, setting the City up for long-term success.
As Yuri Kochiyama, a California-born Asian American activist who dedicated her life to the fight for human rights and against racism and injustice said, "Our ultimate objective in learning about anything is to try to create and develop a more just society."
We need sweeping action, enacting systems to undo the damage wrought by the pandemic and serve future generations, lifting the communities that need it most. The potential of these bold measures to improve the lives of families hinges on maintaining and expanding funding for these efforts. That means a permanent solution to these ongoing challenges. Let's not repeat the mistakes of the past and instead build a better future for all of Los Angeles.
(April Verrett is the President of SEIU Local 2015, and Alberto Retana is the President and CEO of Community Coalition.)