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Staying Focused on Racial Equity: Philanthropy’s Role in Implementation of American Rescue Act Dollars

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. 

Leverage Public-Private Partnerships and Broker Relationships

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. 

Advocate for Systems Change

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

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.

Identify and Fund Capacity Needs

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:

Keep Racial Equity and Housing Justice at the Forefront

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. 

Showing 1 reaction

  • Stephanie Chan
    published this page in Blog 2021-03-16 12:44:43 -0400

We joined Funders Together because we believe in the power of philanthropy to play a major role in ending homelessness, and we know we have much to learn from funders across the country.

-Christine Marge, Director of Housing and Financial Stability at United Way of Greater Los Angeles

I am thankful for the local partnerships here in the Pacific Northwest that we’ve been able to create and nurture thanks to the work of Funders Together. Having so many of the right players at the table makes our conversations – and all of our efforts – all the richer and more effective.

-David Wertheimer, Deputy Director at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.

-President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964 State of the Union Address

Funders Together has given me a platform to engage the other funders in my community. Our local funding community has improved greatly to support housing first models and align of resources towards ending homelessness.

-Leslie Strnisha, Vice President at Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland

Our family foundation convenes local funders and key community stakeholders around strategies to end homelessness in Houston. Funders Together members have been invaluable mentors to us in this effort, traveling to our community to share their expertise and examples of best practices from around the nation.

-Nancy Frees Fountain, Managing Director at The Frees Foundation

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