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Guest Editorial:
Seattle Public Health Experts Call for Investments to Redress Social and Economic Inequities

Written By: Aaron B. Katz, Barbara Baquero, Donald L. Chi, Anjum Hajat, India J. Ornelas, and Clarence Spigner.

As public health teachers and researchers, we believe the tensions between the Seattle City Council and Mayor Jenny Durkan distract from what should be a singular focus on the deep and entrenched inequities that fuel the public health crises faced by our city and state.  We know our leaders recognize the gravity of the moment and must continue to work collaboratively to come up with solutions to the wide-spread suffering.
 
Novel coronavirus infection has sickened nearly 19,000 King County residents and killed more than 700.  The economic collapse forced by COVID has dissolved jobs and evaporated livelihoods, pushing bare necessities like food out of reach for many families.  COVID has also undermined the education of our children and young adults, with potentially long-term damage to emotional and social development and life prospects. 

 

As public health experts, we know the inequities that divide us make us sick.

The housing crisis – unaffordable rents, too few emergency shelters – has for so long left too many on the streets in unsafe and unhealthy conditions and thousands more at risk of eviction.  And the Black Lives Matter movement is highlighting the damage still endured by Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color due to the structures of racism – including violent policing - erected more than 400 years ago.
 
As public health experts, we know the inequities that divide us make us sick. This time of intersecting crises calls for innovative thinking and new approaches, to invest in the factors that can build and sustain healthy communities.  It calls for rebalancing our public investments to redress inequities in economic and community development, jobs, education, and housing, investments that will improve the health of our communities.  Some examples in the city budget that would move us in this direction are:

 
  • Strengthened police violence prevention programs in communities of color
  • Housing support, including utility and rent relief, and food insecurity in communities of color that have been disproportionately harmed by COVID
  • Support for Seattle Public Schools’ efforts to increase access to technology and educational support
  • Funding for homeownership programs among first-time low-income individuals in rapidly gentrifying and poor neighborhoods, which will help build wealth among those who need it most and reduce wealth inequality

[B]etter health requires fewer inequities, which requires we change our strategies and priorities.


Addressing the structures of racism and the inequities they bring must happen throughout our public and private institutions.  That’s why at the University of Washington School of Public Health, we are leading the creation of the Center for Anti-Racism and Community Health to research and develop innovative approaches that can undermine the structures of racism.  This is a risky effort within the hallowed halls of academia, which is challenged by the same inequities – almost 70% of our faculty are white – found outside the “ivory tower.”  But what we know – from our collective experience in public health research and practice – is that better health requires fewer inequities, which require we change our strategies and priorities.
 
Based on this same thinking, we urge our elected officials to overcome the tensions of the moment, keep their focus upstream, on restructuring systems that produce the unequal distribution of opportunity and resources, and use whatever policy, budgetary, and programmatic tools they have available, whether it’s interfund loans, use of emergency funds, or other strategies that can redirect funds right now.
 
When COVID hit our city, we showed the rest of the country what was needed to slow the spread.  Now let’s lead by showing how to effectively redress the social and economic inequities that shape the health of all our communities.
 
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The authors are on the faculty of the University of Washington School of Public Health. The views expressed here are their own and do not necessarily represent those of the university or school.
 
Corresponding author: Aaron Katz, garlyk@uw.edu, 206.550.2277

JumpStart in Action: New Investments in Housing Stability

Thanks to all who fought for and won progressive revenue through JumpStart Seattle, the City is making new investments in rental assistance, mortgage counseling, and foreclosure prevention to help keep people in their homes as we weather deep COVID recession as a city. With COVID requiring us all to stay home to stay healthy, economic recession disproportionately impacting Black, Indigenous, and communities of color and low-wage workers, and now-yearly toxic air pollution episodes caused by climate wildfires making it unsafe to go outdoors—it is more important than ever to help people stay in their homes.
 
This infusion of funding for rent and mortgage assistance, made in part available through JumpStart COVID relief legislation passed by Council, will help thousands of households stave off eviction and foreclosure. Paired with unprecedented long-term investments in deeply affordable, green housing through JumpStart progressive revenue, these investments will shore up our community’s resilience to weather these crises and ensure a just and equitable recovery.
 
Thank you to the advocates, community members, and workers who tirelessly pushed for this immediate relief for those who—due to existing systemic inequities—are hardest hit by the current crises. More is needed, and we will keep pushing for the necessary investments to provide safe, equitable, affordable housing for all our neighbors—including those in crowded, unsafe shelters or surviving outdoors.

Read the full release here. 

Fare Share: Minimum Compensation for TNC Drivers

The world of independent contracting has long been an area of innovation and technology; and for some, a world of poverty wages and insufficient benefits. 
 
For TNC drivers, many of whom are immigrants, people of color, and non-native English speakers, the fight for basic labor standards has been met with lobbyists, threats, and worse.  A couple years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to New York and sit in on a City Council meeting.  The first item of business was a moment of silence for a TNC driver who had taken his own life due to financial stress. These drivers invest tens of thousands of dollars into their jobs -- purchasing a nice car, keeping it clean, maintaining insurance -- before even starting.  Then, the TNC apps can deactivate them without notice, or change the terms of pay.  
 
Today, we heard testimony from dozens of TNC drivers and advocates, most of whom agreed we need to set base standards for workers in the city.  In 2014, we passed the nation's first Citywide $15 minimum wage, but independent contractors were left out of the equation.  Since the early 2010s, the City of Seattle has worked to try to set basic standards for TNC drivers, and the majority of those efforts have failed after years of lobbying and litigation. 
 
I'm excited to have the TNC minimum compensation legislation in front of us, allowing drivers a fair shot at making a living, providing for their kids, and keeping food on the table. I'm grateful to the team at the Office of Labor Standards and the Mayor's office for their work in getting this legislation to Council.  It's tough work.  My team and I will be working in the next week to enhance the legislation in a few ways and we'll be looking forward to voting this legislation out of committee before budget deliberations begin. Those enhancements include:
  • Ensuring transparency for customers of TNCs so they know what they're paying, and how much of that goes to drivers themselves; 
  • Increasing the mileage rate to account for items like rest breaks and retirement; 
  • Ensuring base rates for drivers to allow them predictability in payment; 
  • Finding ways to fine-tune the legislation in the future through proper evaluation; 
  • Ensuring adequate pay for cleaning, increasing safety for customers and drivers; and
  • Providing for base fares for drivers who get called for pick-ups 
Please share your thoughts on the legislation by signing up for public comment during our special Finance & Housing Committee meeting next Thursday, September 24th.  

New Small Businesses Grant Opportunity

The Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce has a new grant opportunity for small businesses, funded through federal CARES Act dollars. 

Businesses with 20 or fewer full-time employees can apply for awards of $5,000, $7,500 or $10,000 through the program. Priority will be given to minority and women-owned businesses, and industries most impacted by the pandemic, The Chamber estimates that it will be able to make grants to 60-115 businesses/organizations within King County.

The deadline to apply is Monday, September 28th at 5 p.m. PST.  Full details and application are available at kingcountyado.com.
In solidarity,
Teresa Mosqueda
#BlackLivesMatter

Seattle City Council Councilmember, Position 8
teresa.mosqueda@seattle.gov
206-684-8806
Copyright © 2020 Seattle City Council, All rights reserved.


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