By: Genoa Barrow | Senior Staff Writer
The last time Sacramento County got a huge chunk of federal money for COVID-19 response, officials gave most of it to the Sheriff’s Department for expenses unrelated to the pandemic. Last August, hundreds of residents spoke out and wrote letters expressing anger over what they called out as a budgetary “bait and switch.”
With the County sitting on a new, unprecedented $300 million pot of funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a local collective wants to make sure that the hard-hit Black community doesn’t once again find itself going without.
“This (is us) getting much more proactive and upfront about what community needs are, and what those community demands are, and trying to place it in a position that we are influenced in early thinking and behavior, as opposed to responding to issues and concerns,” said Sierra Health Foundation CEO Chet Hewitt.
The Center at Sierra Health Foundation is one of 78 organizations, individuals and other stakeholders who issued a letter to County officials Monday, demanding equitable access to the ARPA funds. The letter outlines recommendations and strategies for the money. The County contracted the consulting and auditing firm, Deloitte to provide guidance, but many raised concerns that the process doesn’t take diverse voices into account.
“There may be some internal value to the selection of Deloitte, but if you really want to capture a more realistic and accurate description of community needs, the hopes and aspirations for the future that they want for themselves and their children and their communities, you have got to also reach more deeply into the places and spaces where people who are the most marginalized are living out their particular life,” Hewitt said.
Kim Williams, Hub Manager of Sacramento Building Healthy Communities, supports the letter.
“It would have been nice, the minute they found out these resources were coming in, based on what took place last time, that they would have rolled out something to say, ‘hey, we’re committed to making sure these funds are getting back to our communities and those who are most in need first, but we didn’t see that,” Ms. Williams said.
The need is great, she says, and the money must be used this time around for its intended purpose.
“It is for communities to recover, it is not to take and pass our government budgets. No, this is for the people. Let’s make sure these people are not being evicted and put out of their homes and on the streets. How are we getting folks back to work? How are we making sure some basic needs are being met? That’s what this funding is for,” Ms. Williams said.
Some in the coalition were part of a smaller group, Sacramentans Advocating for Vaccine Equity, that has twice before called on and called out County officials. After the Sacramento OBSERVER revealed in 2020 that the CARES Act funding was spent largely on the Sheriff’s Department, County executive Nav Gill was ousted earlier this year following a vote of “no confidence” spearheaded by then Board of Supervisors Chair Phil Serna.
Both Hewitt and Ms. Williams remain hopeful that decision makers will listen to their demands.
“We’re going to trust, but we’re going to also be active in ensuring that that trust is manifest in terms of the behaviors and decisions that actually get made,” Hewitt said.
“We’re not going to devolve into a lesser, demoralized and hate-filled approach. But having said that, we’re not going to shy away from making that good trouble, expressing our needs and desires loudly, making demands, and expecting them to be responded to,” he added, referencing the late civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis.
Ms. Williams agrees.
“It’s important for us to keep the pressure on,” she said. “We’ve got to ensure that these funds get into the communities and the residents to help them to recover safely. We’ve had communities and folks who have been slammed by COVID, whether it’s getting the disease, being laid off from jobs or what’s happened with our young people in schooling. We’ve seen more people than ever without homes. It’s just bad.
“We have to make sure that those dollars are going to the right areas, the right communities, the right issues, in our communities that are also going to continue to help rescue our people,” Ms. Williams said. “If we don’t put the pressure on, they’ll continue to do what they’ve been doing in the past. Transparency is key. We need to see it. We need to know we need to have a say in it and then we need to hold them accountable to it.”
With so many people impacted by the pandemic and its fallout, the stakes are high. There is continued effort to build the coalition and show decisionmakers that they won’t stand idly by as ARPA funds never make it to those who desperately need assistance.
There is power in numbers and in the growing coalition,” Ms. Williams said.
“We’re constituents and we’re voters. If we have to make decisions about who’s standing with us and who’s not, those results come in the polls.”
Others signing the letter include 21 Reasons; Always Knocking; the California Black Health Network; CLAP ( Community Lead Advocacy Program); Community Mothers of 95838-15; Mutual Assistance Network director Danielle Lawrence; DeNelle Ellison, Interim President and CEO of the Greater Sacramento Urban League; Derrell Roberts, co-founder of Roberts Family Development Center; Jay King, president and CEO of the California Black Chamber of Commerce; Jedida Gomes and Paris Dye of the Black Child Legacy Campaign; Sacramento Area Congregations Together, the Sacramento Black Chamber of Commerce, and SURJ Sacramento (Showing Up for Racial Justice).
Editor’s Note: The letter is available for viewing in its entirety on our website, www.SacObserver.com.