Equity Element Group Pushes for Access, Accountability
By Dianne Anderson
A lot is on the plate for the County of San Bernardino in meeting expectations for the 11th Element of the Equity Element Group with attention turned to increasing access to resources and services for the Black community.
Last week, the group met to update concerns over how the Black community can get its fair share, particularly in light of many millions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act, federal funding designated to address widespread inequities for underserved communities.
Pastor Samuel Casey said it’s now three years since the county declared racism as a public health crisis. At that time, the county was pushing the Public Safety Coalition, where COPE was one of the conveners.
Initially, his activist organization approached the county about the public health crisis to ensure racial justice, and to start enacting policy. It was strongly focused on the county’s responsibility to recognize and acknowledge the systemic harms of racial injustice.
“Historically, not only within this country, but the county’s practice, that may include how they do contractual agreements, or lack thereof, with Black-led or Black empowering organizations within the county,” said Pastor Casey, executive director of Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement.
One month following the murder of George Floyd, San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors declared racism a public health crisis, resulting in the 11th element group of the Countywide Vision plan.
Casey said the role in their element was to come alongside the county, work with prior element groups to become more equitable, or shed light on how they were not proportionately engaging the Black community.
But he is hopeful lately that more can be done to address the many unmet needs.
“Finally, because we have two new county Board Supervisors, and for the county to reinstate their commitment not only to the Equity Element Group, but things we will work on as it relates to what it means to declare racism as a public health crisis,” he said.
Willie Ellison II, a member of the Southern California Black Chamber of Commerce, said there were no surprises with this last county update that discussed things that they are doing differently in the past three years, such as balancing the budget. He said they talked about how they made strides within the BIPOC community.
But his main concern is making sure that Black businesses are being supported, and he wants to keep opportunities in front of the people.
As part of the 11th element group monthly meetings, he feels one goal is to alert the county on ways to provide the Black community with better access to county programs, which should include how to become vendors and gain fair access to the Request For Proposal process.
Until now, he said it’s been almost impossible to get a foot in the door to compete for local county offerings, even for small contracts. Although he has won state and federal-level contracts, he said the county has required to qualify for the RFP, vendors must have had at least one county RFP.
“That doesn’t make any sense. How do you get the first one if you can’t get the first one?” he said. “We need to end the Good Ole’ Boys’ network that keeps Black folks and communities of color from participating.”
At the last meeting, Ellison wanted to see how RFPs can be accessible to the Black community, not just available, but how to qualify. He said the county addressed the issue, announcing they were on track to open the process, including targeting RFP writing courses to the Black community.
“It’s our mission to break up the cronyism and for Blacks and People of Color to get an honest opportunity to become vendors for San Bernardino County and compete for RFP’s,” he said.
Keith Willis, a member of the 100 Black Men of the Inland Empire, said his hope is the same as the group’s primary goal.
“It’s for the county of San Bernardino to ensure and remain accountable to the community for programs, services and financial expenditures that align with the county’s official declaration that racism is a public health crisis in San Bernardino County,” said Willis, who is also a trial attorney.
Initially, he said the county was presenting various element groups to communicate what resources and services they provide, which he feels, if implemented properly, the approach has great potential.
“This is an opportunity for the county to demonstrate what steps it will take to balance the status quo of what led to the realization that there is this public health crisis of racism in the county. Ultimately, it’s an issue of accountability,” he said.
For the past three years, ARPA funds have flowed down to state and local governments to help the underserved community, providing nonprofits and businesses with a variety of funding, resources and services.
Some are doing better than others.
At the end of last fiscal year, the California Pan Ethnic Health Network analyzed the state’s 12 largest counties, and gave San Bernardino a Grade C on their report card of ARPA spending.
They report the county has created a multi-year plan to implement its Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF), but is slow in developing specific projects. In contrast, Los Angeles County got a Grade A for its Anti-Racism, Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, which has worked with community stakeholders to embed racial and social equity goals and principles in its ARPA plan and projects.
“In 2021 and 2022, California’s counties and cities received a total of $16 billion flexible aid through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) Program to continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” CPEHN reports. “These funds arrived at a crucial time when governments were pushed to address systemic racism as a public health crisis, following 2020’s national uprisings to support Black lives and address police violence. With these ARPA funds, local governments have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strengthen their public health and social services infrastructure, advance racial equity, and mend trust and relationships, especially with communities of color.”
Soon, another ARPA funding cycle opens up for Fiscal Year 2024. Some nonprofits and small businesses may wonder what it takes to get into that RFP process before the opportunity dries up.
Earlier this year, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reviewed ways that state and local governments should have used ARPA pandemic funds in 2023.
They report that state and local governments should prioritize spending relief funds on three critical areas important to the welfare of children and families, rebuilding the public sector, and expanding access to paid leave.
They also say the funds should bolster systems of care through increasing access to quality child care and elder care, and supporting the workers who perform that work.
In 2021, ARPA delegated $350 billion in state and local funds to support economic recovery on the heels of the pandemic, according to EPI. The nonprofit think tanks said the funding should use SLFRF dollars to fill the gap, and provide needed support to working families and children.
“State and local governments have more than $150 billion left to spend, and there is no better use than spending the money on transformative investments that can restore the public sector and provide vital help to low-wage workers and their families.”
For more information on Frequently Asked ARPA questions, see the National League of Cities
For more on State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, see https://dof.ca.gov/budget/state-fiscal-recovery-fund/
To view how Los Angeles County has used its ARPA funds, go to https://ceo.lacounty.gov/arp-approved-projects/
To see the report card on how all California counties are spending their ARPA dollars,
To see San Bernardino County CPEHN report card,