Organizers and advocates won groundbreaking victories in investments through the American Rescue Plan. The bill notably moves away from trickle-down economics and instead gives direct support to households in need and makes tremendous progress prioritizing the needs of people who are struggling with unemployment, housing instability, and health care coverage.
These investments, however significant, are investments in systems that were built on structural racism. It will require continued organizing and advocacy to ensure that these investments advance us toward racial equity.
We know that any investment in status quo structures, policy, and practice bolster and perpetuate structural racism. Like the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the passing of the American Rescue Plan is another moment for us to be proactive and stay focused on advancing racial equity to prevent further harm, knowing that true equity will not be possible without justice and liberation.
The Role of Philanthropy
A year ago, Funders Together emphasized the need to focus on racial equity in our COVID-19 Response and System Redesign Recommendations for Philanthropy. Many of these recommendations still hold true and are even more timely. Below, we have pulled out some of the actions philanthropy can take to ensure that the American Rescue Plan dollars do not exacerbate inequities.
We must be attentive to and proactively counter the ways our systems disenfranchise and marginalize Black, Indigenous, Brown, LGBTQ, older and younger communities, people living with disabilities, and people who have uncertain or dangerous immigration status, focusing especially on those who are living at the intersections of these identities and their accompanying oppressions.
Now is another instance to bring together local government and community stakeholders to ensure these populations are being prioritized and supported in accessing American Rescue Plan resources through equity-based decision making practices.
Funders Together has advocated for philanthropy to build relationships and trust with BIPOC-led and -serving organizations and to resource mainstream organizations to work with these organizations and vice versa. We’ve also pushed philanthropy to directly fund grassroots organizers, including ones who are working on racial justice, environmental justice, and housing justice, with unrestricted grants. This is a time for funders to reach out to their grantees and to ensure that culturally-specific organizations and BIPOC communities are taking advantage of the financial resources available through the American Rescue Act.
Bringing about systems change requires a sector wide approach of engaging in public policy and advocacy at all levels: local, state, and federal. Philanthropy has a pivotal role to play in not just supporting and influencing equitable systems change, but pushing for change as part of a long-term vision that continually puts racial justice at the forefront.
In our summary of the American Rescue Act, we shared that it includes $21.55 billion for rental assistance and $5 billion for tenant-based rental assistance for households who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness.
There is excellent, principled work underway to identify and change policies and practices that are perpetuating inequity in housing, including
- Advancing racial equity in emergency rental assistance programs,
- Advancing racial equity in coordinated entry and prioritization,
- The New Deal for Housing Justice, which lays out recommendations and policy priorities that move us from reformation to transformation, and
- The New Deal the End Youth Homelessness, which lays out actions and policy changes for an end state that young people with lived expertise wish to see in the world.
A unique opportunity exists within philanthropy: talking with stakeholders to have these important conversations and address any unintended consequences as the long-term work develops.
In 2020, we encouraged philanthropy to support scenario planning for several years out and to begin conversations about permanent system changes, such as moving away from congregate shelter models, creating new public funding streams for affordable housing and homelessness services, and designing new policies, processes, and interventions that center racial equity.
We are glad to see $5 billion in the American Rescue Plan for funding supportive services, developing non-congregate shelter units and affordable permanent housing, all specifically targeted to individuals and families at risk of or experiencing homelessness.
And, there is still a need for philanthropy to think long-term and support communities in finding new ways to invest in homelessness services and affordable housing. In some cities and counties, we have seen philanthropy support message testing and development, require explicit racial equity plans, serve as catalysts for additional philanthropic support, and even as backbone organizations. Examples of places that created new funding streams for homelessness and housing include:
- Voters in Los Angeles County voted to address racial injustice by investing in health care, housing, and jobs, thanks to the work of Reimagine LA
- In Portland, OR a measure to tax the wealthiest residents and the biggest businesses will raise $2.5 billion over a decade to address homelessness.
Austin, TX is using money cut from the police budget to establish supportive housing.
While applauding the American Rescue Plan, we also know that the work remains to dismantle white supremacy and structural racism. While this latest stimulus package is expected to alleviate poverty, we must ask for whom and for how long. While it is expected to secure stable housing for many, we must ask how difficult that will be to access and for whom.
Our path to the historic investments provided through the American Rescue Plan shows us that organizing and advocacy are effective vehicles for change. We must now leverage that lesson and invest in liberated spaces, decolonized structures, and principled relationships that will together lead us closer to liberation.