SB 17 highlights how the COVID-19 pandemic has exemplified and exacerbated imbalances in racial health outcomes and takes the bold stance of declaring racism a public health crisis. The bill, entitled Office of Racial Equity, calls for the creation of new, independently governed investigatory bodies that will develop a racial equity framework to address racial inequities present in the state government and exacerbated by state policies, including but not limited to those with a health and equity focus. The hope is that the reports and analyses that emerge from the newly formed Office of Racial Equity, Racial Equity Advisory, and Accountability Council will help elevate the long-standing racial inequities in health and lead to evidence-based action and legislation.
On September 17, 2021, SCG’s Public Policy Advisory Committee voted to support SB 17. The Committee’s decision allows SCG’s Public Policy team to take actions to represent philanthropy in larger coalitions, engage in regional advocacy, develop educational and programmatic opportunities, and mobilize philanthropy to further the insights from the data and analyses that emerge. SCG joins organizations including Advancement Project California, Community Coalition, NextGen Policy, SEIU California, among others, in supporting this legislation.
SB 17 has passed the Senate and is awaiting a hearing in the Assembly.
Why SCG Supports SB 17
SCG believes that definitions make a difference and can lead to action. We believe declaring racism a public health crisis will help bring attention to how racial disparities have long affected the health outcomes of communities of color.
Racial disparities in health care and social services are by no means a new phenomenon. Historically underserved populations are overwhelmingly uninsured or underinsured, have higher instances of chronic disease, and receive a lower quality of care. The COVID-19 pandemic has only magnified these inequitable health outcomes, especially for Black, Hispanic/Latinx, and Asian communities, who face significantly higher infection rates, hospitalization, and death. These at-risk groups, which often overlap with lower socioeconomic status, were put in further danger due to the demands of in-person work, public transportation, and lack of adequate health insurance and available services. In addition to the pandemic, existing (and worsening) social and living environments have a heavy influence on health. Indicators such as growing racial tensions, police brutality, and environmental distress signal increased levels of chronic stress.
Creating the external investigatory bodies proposed under SB 17 will help identify the existing policies and systems that drive racial inequities within the government. The development of statewide bodies would allow for more voices to be heard and the state government to be held to a higher standard of accountability. Without creating focused, independent groups to analyze state government from an external perspective, there’s a significant risk that these inequities will continue to grow.
However, it is essential to recognize that the analyses and reporting done by these groups are only the beginning and that they need support enacting their recommendations. As philanthropy increases its focus and investments in racial justice, the sector can play a crucial role in ensuring that this data collection and analysis does not become siloed and has a further reach than just government reports. Philanthropy can help provide models for the State to scale up proposed solutions, ensure government and philanthropic grants direct funding towards communities of color that the pandemic has most impacted, and center the voices of individuals affected by discriminatory practices. Philanthropy’s support for SB 17 has the potential to further a policy agenda focused on transparency and equity.
Moving forward, SCG will continue to monitor SB 17’s progress through the legislative process and keep members updated on ways they can get involved. It is critical to recognize that policies such as SB 17 and the improvements it recommends are beneficial to every sector and all funders’ goals. Although racial equity, eliminating health disparities, or institutional/structural analysis may not be the explicit mission of every foundation, philanthropy must recognize that these issues are woven into every other effort to make California (and beyond) a better, safer, more just place, and that funding and support from a variety of different organizations is crucial.
If SCG members are interested in getting involved with efforts around SB 17 or other racial justice work, don’t hesitate to get in touch with SCG’s policy team.