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Edward Henderson, California Black Media

On June 8, community leaders, public health advocates and racial justice groups gathered at a virtual press event to call on Governor Gavin Newsom to support the Health Justice and Racial Justice Foundation (HERJ Foundation).

The initiative supports community organizations working to address the major social, environmental and economic factors that limit people’s ability to be healthy, such as poverty, violence and injury, environmental hazards, and access to affordable housing and healthy food. Health advocates will also address California’s longstanding issues of health equity and racial justice.

The fund passed a major hurdle last week when the state legislature included $75 million in its joint budget project. This means that both the Assembly and the Senate support the HERJ fund, and they will start negotiations with the governor to get his support for his approval.

“Our state boasts a staggering $97 billion budget surplus,” said Ron Coleman, managing director of the California Panethnic Health Network. “If not now, then when? Given the devastating impact of racism on the health and well-being of Californians of color, it’s the ultimate travesty that racial justice isn’t even mentioned in the governor’s budget proposal.”

A virtual community meeting and press conference last Wednesday ended a series of rallies held by supporters in cities across the state calling on Newsom to allocate space in his budget for the HERJ Foundation.

Coleman hosted an online event where representatives from service organizations spoke about their support for the fund and presented plans for how the money will be used to support their shared mission of serving minority and low-income communities in California.

Genedra Sykes, Partner at Arboreta Group, spoke about the disparity in funding for small grassroots nonprofits and how traditionally larger white-led nonprofits use public funds to subcontract grassroots nonprofits to provide services to communities of color for more low price.

“Faith-based non-profit organizations have relationships, access to those who are most vulnerable and marginalized among us, who have disproportionately poor health outcomes,” Sykes said. “This bill also levels the playing field a bit. Instead of going through intermediaries in the form of larger non-profit organizations, the funding will go directly to the people doing the work. Passion, heart, skills, talents are there. It’s about the resources to fund those talents.”

Coleman gave attendees an update on the status of the HERJ Fund’s path to inclusion in the state budget.

Now that the State Legislature has included the fund in its fiscal year 2022-23 spending proposal (it was not included in Newsom’s “May revision”), it must survive negotiations with the governor’s office before the June 15 deadline for finalizing the budget.

The final budget should be ready by June 30, the last day for approval by the governor.

Supporters of the HERJ Foundation remain hopeful that funding for their program will be included in the final budget.

Updated budget mechanisms have been added to the HERJ Foundation’s proposal to allay those concerns, and the foundation’s supporters say Newsom has no excuse.

“Our best chance to get the HERJ fund in the budget is now. We hope all of you will put pressure on the Governor to make this a reality,” Coleman said. “If he really cares about the intersection of health equity and racial equity, then we’ll see funding.”

Participants were encouraged to contact the governor’s office and the Legislature to pressure them to include the fund. You can visit herjfund.org to learn more about the proposal and efforts to include it in the state budget.

Nadya Kin-Ayoub, Executive Director of Rainbow Spaces, shared details of the valuable activities and services that community nonprofits provide. She said there is no shortage of families in need who want to participate in their organization’s programs, but because of limited funding for transportation, many people never get access to services designed to help them.

“It tells me that when something is created in our communities, it doesn’t have the proper impact on our Black, Brown, and API communities,” Keen-Ayub said. “I will continue to fight. To really contribute to this, we need the state to understand that the true impact comes from the community and the people who live with these problems and know how to help them.”

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