Editorial: To the mayor and City Council: Who are you trying to help?

The following represents the views of the undersigned members of the Community Editorial Board.

Thanks to the American Rescue Act signed last week by President Biden, Long Beach is expected to receive $153 million to address the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have a historic opportunity to invest in our children, at-risk youth, senior citizens, and those disadvantaged communities most devastated by the pandemic. But only if our elected leaders make the right choices.

The impact of COVID-19 varies greatly depending on who you are and where you live.

Rate of cases per 100K population by zip code in Long Beach. Courtesy of city’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Members of our Latinx, Black, Cambodian, and Pacific Islander communities have been hardest hit by the pandemic.

“The service sector of the economy has experienced the highest job loss and unemployment caused by the pandemic, impacting low-wage service sector workers who are predominantly people of color and women,” according to a memo prepared by City Manager Tom Modica.

Equity demands that we make strategic investments that provide long-term benefits to chronically underserved communities.

The proposed Long Beach Recovery Plan does not do enough to meet that standard. It should not be approved by the City Council on Tuesday in its present form.

The entire Recovery Plan package unveiled March 8 by Mayor Robert Garcia totaled $207 million. It includes the American Rescue Act funds, plus another $29 million in emergency rental assistance and $26 million for health programs, including COVID-19 testing and contact tracing.

The plan would devote $78 million to rebuilding the city’s reserves and plugging a gaping hole in next year’s city budget. That should not be the highest priority to jump-start the local economy.

To do so would reward the Mayor and the City Council for failing to address long-standing structural budget problems. In this crisis, it cannot be business as usual at City Hall.  Budgets are choices. They are a statement of priorities.

A presentation prepared for Tuesday’s council meeting says: “A successful recovery plan must address economic inequities.”  If that’s true, then make that the top priority.

The plan would devote $25 million in direct support for an array of businesses, including; grants to restaurants, bars, breweries, fitness centers, personal care services like barber shops, hair and nail salons, and arts and cultural organizations impacted by COVID-19. The city would also waive millions of dollars in fees, promote tourism, and provide grants for technical assistance to businesses.

The recovery plan would make available $5 million in grants up to $25,000 for “locally-owned, independent, full-service, sit-down” restaurants, bars and breweries, based on their revenue, size, and number of employees.

To be equitable, that program needs to give priority to small struggling locally-owned restaurants that have not had access to other pandemic relief loans and assistance programs. Otherwise, the money could be quickly exhausted without benefiting small businesses in need.

The plan also includes $4 million for violence prevention programs at a time when the number of shootings has reached its highest level in years.

There’s also $7.5 million for economic inclusion programs, including $2 million to provide Chromebooks and WiFi hot-spots to some residents and businesses. If bridging the digital divide is a high priority, the city should use some of the American Rescue Act money to build broadband infrastructure in underserved communities.  Does spending $5 million to clean up illegal dumping address economic inequities? No.

Families are struggling. Many parents have been forced to manage their kids’ distance learning by reducing work hours, sacrificing wages, or worse yet getting laid off or furloughed.

The City is in a position to provide relief to quality child-care providers for parents to re-enter the workforce and yet there is no dedicated program in the plan.  Not dedicating funding to child-care providers, who like restaurants have had capacity restrictions, diminishes the support for women and working families available to work. Similarly, devoting $2.1 million to early childhood education is not enough.

We can’t recover from the COVID-19 recession without real interventions…significant investments to support families, women, and those in need.

The infusion of American Rescue Act funds provides a rare opportunity to address economic disparities that divide our city.

To solicit advice about how to spend the one-time money, the city held 29 invitation-only roundtable meetings with representatives of various business and community groups.

A common recommendation emerged from those meetings: “Decisions about how to spend the federal stimulus should be targeted, data driven, and based on the businesses, workers, and residents with greatest needs.”

Follow that advice!

Signed,

Jeff Rabin

Mariela Salgado

Amber Hopper

Jose Osuna

Murriel McCabe

Shilita Montez

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The Community Editorial Board is made up of seven members of the Long Beach community and are drawn from different life journeys, different parts of the city and different socioeconomic experiences. The board writes on issues and subjects in which it has a personal interest, experience or expertise. The board operates wholly separate from the newsroom and members serve a one-year term. The Community Editorial Board can be reached at [email protected]
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