Gov. Gavin Newsom is facing criticism from community groups after refusing for the second year in a row to provide money in the state budget for a proposed fund aimed at promoting health equity and racial justice.
Supporters of the proposed Health Equity and Racial Justice Fund called on Newsom to commit millions of dollars to support groups, clinics and tribal organizations offering services and programs to address health disparities.
This year the Senate and the Assembly suggested $75 million in current annual funding for the Health Equity and Racial Equity Fund. But the funding was left out of the $307.9 billion budget finalized last week for the 2022-23 fiscal year, which began Friday.
The idea for the fund came up last year but was not funded in the 2021-22 budget. While other forms of state and county grant opportunities exist for community organizations and tribal groups, advocates for the Health Equity and Racial Equity Fund believe , that it is a unique way for public officials to administer and support their efforts to address access to care, employment, transportation, violence prevention and criminal justice.
More than 200 organizations have publicly supported the fund.
But they said Newsom’s failure to allocate money, especially with a $101.4 billion surplus, reflects a lack of effort on his part to take bold steps toward racial justice, noting that he has refrained from declaring racism a threat to the public health.
More than 240 cities, counties, states and health-related associations and departments have made the declaration since 2020, according to the American Public Health Assn, which tracks the data.
A spokesman for the governor did not directly address the decision not to provide money to the fund or the resulting criticism.
In a statement, the governor’s office said the new budget “makes history by expanding Medi-Cal to all income-eligible Californians, regardless of immigration status, and provides an additional $200 million specifically to expand access to reproductive health services while strengthens the defense. This is in addition to the governor’s inflation relief proposal, which would provide up to $1,050 to California families.
Sonya Young Aadam, CEO of the California Black Women’s Health Project, an Inglewood-based nonprofit, said the statement confirmed her concern that Newsom has “a very serious lack of real focus or interest in things that are driven and rooted in racism’.
She said it was a “slap in the face” to see the governor not take active steps to address the causes of the disparity or provide money to help community-based organizations address racial disparities in health care, housing , criminal justice or education.
Her organization does community programming and partnerships to support Black women with maternal and reproductive health, mental health and health advocate training.
“I relied on that, and not just for the organization that I run, but I relied on that for the whole spectrum of organizations out there that do this hard work and that fill those gaps,” Adam said. “Certainly the black women that I know who run organizations … we make huge sacrifices to do the work that we do and we crave the support to be able to continue that work and that’s unacceptable.”
She said Newsom’s decision only makes it more challenging for groups like hers to provide services and programs, especially as an organization focused on black communities. Community-based groups often compete for the same pools of limited grants and government funding that cannot always be relied upon in the long term.
“If I ran an animal shelter, we’d be much better funded,” Adam said. “It wouldn’t even have to be a state animal shelter, it could be local in a small town and it would be better funded than the work we do.”
Dorina Wong, policy director for Asian Resources Inc., a Sacramento-based group focused on helping AAPI communities, said she was disappointed and disappointed to learn that the Health Equity and Racial Equity Fund again did not receive money.
She said her group serves more than 35,000 people a year with medical care, language access and assistance with food and housing. More funding, she said, especially a “tiny slice” of the health fund’s proposed budget, would help more community organizations — often the most trusted groups in underrepresented communities — tackle systemic problems head-on.
“It doesn’t even seem like a big commitment to really support all of ours [community organizations] who do this critical work,” Wong said. “I’m really disappointed that he refused to fund simple solutions to some of these systemic problems.”
Advocates also expressed concern that Senate Bill 17 by state Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) did not make it through the legislative process this session.
The bill would create a state Office of Racial Equality to help develop national strategies to promote racial equality across agencies.
“My team and I are moving SB-17 through the legislative process as we continue to meet and work with all stakeholders to achieve systemic racial equity and justice in California,” Pan said in a statement. “I plan to complete this work to send SB-17 to the governor’s desk for signature later this year and celebrate the equity progress already made in the historic 2022-23 budget.”
Ronald Coleman, managing director of policy for the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, said the lack of funding is a missed opportunity for Newsom, especially since “people of color have consistently supported [him] at his first election, and certainly saved him at his recall.’
He said that while state and local government agencies have tried over the years to address health equity, there has not been enough funding given to community organizations that are already on the ground and connected to the populations that need help. . He noted that more than 200 organizations have supported the Health Equity and Racial Justice Fund.
“We don’t see Governor Newsom stepping up and making serious investments, especially as it relates to racial justice, for communities of color,” Coleman said. “Of course, California, as a state, has benefited from institutional and systemic racism that has impacted communities for hundreds of years, and we believe that California is complicit, and must invest state and resources to turn the page.”