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By David R. Shorey, East County Program Manager, Institute for Public Strategies

July 11, 2022 (San Diego) -- Communities that are low income or consist of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color generally see less investment in services and access to health care. They are more consistently targets of drug and alcohol marketing and overconcentration of alcohol retailers. This creates a spiral environment where drugs and alcohol become a coping mechanism to numb physical, mental and emotional pain in lieu of proper care.

A broad network of public health, social justice, community, and culture based organizations have been advocating for additional funding to address this issue through the $100 million California Health Equity and Racial Justice Fund that would be added to the California state budget. Unfortunately for fiscal year 2022-2023, the Fund was not included, making it the second consecutive year that Gov. Gavin Newsom nixed the plan. This, despite support from both the Assembly and Senate, despite a state budget surplus in the billions of dollars, and despite the urgent need to address the root causes of health inequities and racial injustices statewide.

Photo right courtesy IPS

The HERJ Fund is bold and innovative. Once it is finally approved, it will provide dedicated, ongoing annual funding for resources to nonprofits, clinics, tribal governments and other community-based organizations that work directly with local residents in their areas. The goal is to identify the most pressing health and racial justice issues and develop solutions that are right for their communities. Right now, health and social inequities are impacting communities of color and other historically marginalized communities. We want to reverse that as well as transform community conditions and institutional government systems to promote racial justice.

We know that in East County and throughout the state, Latinx, Blacks, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, Asian Americans, American Indians, LGBTQ+ community members and those living with low incomes are at a higher risk of getting and dying from COVID-19. They have higher rates of job and income loss, housing challenges and food insecurity. A legacy of structural racism is placing an unfair burden of so many preventable and pre-existing health conditions like heart disease and diabetes. We spend billions of dollars treating these diseases. Let’s focus on preventing them in the first place.

Photo left via Creative Commons

Community organizations have been working on these issues, but the funding stream is inadequate, irregular, inflexible and sometimes come with too many strings attached. The range of allowable uses under the HERJ Fund is broad. Local needs assessments are critical tools for community leaders to identify the most pressing inequities in their communities and tailor best practices to local circumstances.

For instance, Health Equity grants will support organizations to take action at the local level by addressing the social determinants of health which drive preventable diseases such as housing security; food security & healthy food systems; economic stability; schools and childcare; community violence & hate crimes; youth criminal justice; and health promoting built environments & environmental justice. At the same time, Racial Justice grants will support innovative approaches to promote racial justice via systems and governance changes like overcoming structural barriers to racial equity in how government activities are implemented; improving data systems and collection to ensure that demographic data recognizes all Californians; supporting racially equitable leadership and participation in sectors such as arts and culture, technology and research.

Photo right via Creative Commons

An Oversight and Accountability Committee with diverse representation will be established to collaborate with the California Department of Public Health’s Office of Healthy Equity (OHE) in guiding the distribution, implementation, and assessment of impact of local and regional grants dispersed by the HERJ Fund. OHE will contract with an independent entity to collect data and measure the impact of initiatives in each of the targeted areas. The entity will provide technical assistance to develop continuous quality improvement strategies to achieve measurable improvements in the effectiveness of funded projects. Best practices in community-based participatory research will be incorporated in collecting and analyzing information to ensure accountability and determine the effectiveness of the projects.

Photo left via Creative Commons

But first, we have to convince the governor that the HERJ Fund is worthy. Organizations and supporters representing every region of California and every policy area, including education, environmental justice, health care, labor, and business, have been participating in rallies across the state in recent weeks of this historic initiative.

Co-sponsors of the Fund include Asian Pacific Partners for Empowerment, Advocacy and Leadership; Black Women for Wellness Action Project; California Black Health Network; California Black Women’s Health Project; California Latinas for Reproductive Justice; California Pan-Ethnic Health Network; Latino Coalition for Healthy California; Public Health Advocates; Public Health Institute; Roots Community Health Center; and Roots of Change.

You can take action by contacting the governor’s office through the website. This is also in line with our mission and values at the Institute for Public Strategies.

IPS works alongside communities to build power, challenge systems of inequity, protect health and improve quality of life. IPS has a vision for safe, secure, vibrant and healthy communities where everyone can thrive. To find out more about IPS East County, follow us at: or by clicking on the links to our social media platforms: IPS East County Facebook, IPS East County Twitter, East County Youth Coalition Instagram.

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