New Report by Environmental Justice and Labor Groups Calls for Deep Investments in Social Infrastructure for Climate Resilience

“We Can’t Just Focus on Physical Infrastructure Investments, We Need to Invest in People and Community Support Systems”

September 21, 2020

Leading environmental justice and labor groups released a new report today recommending that California policymakers invest in building equitable, community-driven social infrastructure for Californians facing the greatest risks from climate change with the fewest material resources to recover.

Resilience Before Disaster: The Need to Build Equitable, Community-Driven Social Infrastructure, jointly released by Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), Service Employees International Union California (SEIU CA), SEIU Local 2015, and the BlueGreen Alliance, makes the case for California to make long-term and deep investments in the resilience of its most vulnerable communities.

“Any crisis is a threat multiplier for inequality,” said Amee Raval, Research Director at Asian Pacific Environmental Network. “Whether it’s a global pandemic, mass power shutoffs, or devastating wildfires, the impacts and risks are dramatically different depending on who you are and where you live.  That’s why we need to strengthen the existing social fabric in communities, coordinate with local governments, invest in resilience hubs and services, and train workers and community members to prepare for and respond to shocks.”

Most of California’s efforts to promote climate adaptation and resilience have focused on improving hard infrastructure–roads, bridges, and other physical infrastructure–without a complementary commitment to social infrastructure, the people, services, and facilities that secure the economic, health, cultural, and social well-being of the community.  

“We’ve heard a lot about resilience in terms of hardening buildings for fire, earthquakes, and other natural and climate disasters,” said Sam Appel, California policy organizer with BlueGreen Alliance. “We need to start thinking of resilience as supporting the people who live inside these buildings.”

“The multi-layered crisis we are facing has put a spotlight on the critical importance of investing in the care workers, social workers, and neighbors who are already part of the social infrastructure of our communities. We often serve as the community’s first responders when there is an emergency,” said April Verrett, President of SEIU Local 2015.  “We need to build the capacity of our caregivers, public services and supports, the healthcare system, and community-based organizations through investment, training, and aligned systems and  networks in order to adequately and equitably respond to the needs of all Californians.”

The report provides a state-level policy framework for community resilience by building out two models: (1) Resilience Hubs and (2) In-Home Resilience. This dual approach to resilience captures the need for both centralized spaces and distributed systems that promote resilience within a community. Importantly, these models integrate disaster response and recovery with amplifying the existing social assets that are already embedded in communities.

Resilience Before Disaster offers a set of recommendations to build resilient communities throughout California:

 

  • Fund Resilience Hubs: California should lead funding efforts to support the development of Resilience Hubs – spaces where communities gather, organize, and access social services on a daily basis – starting in communities with the highest need.  These spaces must be equipped to provide support for disaster response and recovery. The report highlights RYSE Youth Center, a youth-led community center in Richmond, which is taking steps toward becoming an innovative Resilience Hub model by exemplifying a community-led governance approach to infrastructure development and program delivery.
  • Establish Resilience Hub Networks: City and County governments should facilitate the development of local Resilience Hubs to implement community resilience solutions on a regional scale, share best practices, and offer complementary services.
  • Invest in the Care Workforce: Home care workers already have the skills and relationships to assist people with access and functional needs, and often bridge the gap between the populations they serve and public and community agencies. A well-trained and empowered home care workforce can play a key role in disaster preparedness and response and bolster In-Home Resilience for the people they serve.  The state should implement strategies to turn these difficult low-wage jobs into high road careers.
  • Rebuild the Public Sector Workforce: We must commit to growing a robust public sector workforce capable of meeting the needs of vulnerable populations and supporting community resilience. We need a full complement of public health, human services, public works, library, school, parks and recreation, and sustainability workers to achieve our climate goals. 
  • Improve Emergency Response to Protect the Most Vulnerable: The state must target resources to the most vulnerable communities, particularly working-class communities of color who are disproportionately impacted by systemic racism and historic economic disinvestment.  The state must also develop a comprehensive strategy for protecting medically vulnerable populations in the event of power shut offs and increase funding for initiatives to improve disaster preparedness and emergency response efforts for California’s vulnerable populations.

“The time has come for California to make long-term and deep investments in the resilience of its most vulnerable communities,” said Christopher Calhoun, Director of Public Affairs with SEIU California. “With tight budgets and poor fiscal forecasts, there will be pressure to revert to austerity, cut public expenditures, and recreate the conditions that have so severely weakened the safety net. Instead, the state must do exactly the opposite: recover through ambitious investments in people and communities.”

“This pandemic is a teachable moment for elected leaders and the public. The lesson is one that public health nurses already know: the health and safety of the public require robust public health systems, and we have neglected public health for years,” said Markeitha Harris, a public health nurse in Los Angeles County and a member of SEIU Local 721. “We need to learn from our mistakes. We weren’t prepared for the pandemic because our public hospitals, clinics, and other support programs have been chronically underfunded. As climate change continues to create health crises, the role of public health systems will only grow.”

The full report and factsheet are accessible online:

What others are saying:

California Environmental Justice Alliance

“We are witnessing the devastating results of climate change right now, and our communities need to be better prepared, especially for working-class communities of color where decades of underinvestment in public services, combined with economic and social barriers to accessing protective resources, create disproportionate risks.” Jose Torres, Energy Equity Program Manager, California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA)

California Federation of Labor

“After the past few weeks, it’s hard to imagine a future without wildfire, smoke filled air, and intense heat, ” said John Brauer, Executive Director of Economic and Workforce Development, California Federation of Labor.  “Fortunately, this report helps us see a future where the people impacted have places to seek respite, and services to rely on to protect them from harm.  We need to invest in the care workforce and vital public services to build resilience in our communities so we don’t leave anyone behind” 

Union of Concerned Scientists

“There is so much we must do to prepare for catastrophes brought on by climate change. At the Union of Concerned Scientists we have been working to make sure that the best science informs the design of critical infrastructure, like bridges, roads, power grids and dams. While these physical infrastructure upgrades are desperately needed, it is equally important that we build the community and social infrastructure to keep people safe. Resilience Before Disaster provides needed insights into how we can better prepare communities for climate disasters.” Jason Barbose, Western States Senior Policy Manager, Union of Concerned Scientists

UC Berkeley Labor Center 

“To recover our economy and make progress in the fight against climate change we need to invest more not less in our social infrastructure and create family-sustaining jobs. Budget cuts and austerity measures will further weaken our communities’ ability to rebound and face future crises. The report proposes the kind of bold actions we need to address the multiple crises facing our state.” Ken Jacobs, Chair, UC Berkeley Labor Center

Communities for A Better Environment

“As our frontline communities experience toxic wildfire smoke, extreme heat, power blackouts, all amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing the dangers of fighting the climate crisis without being prepared. We know the effects of climate change, already intense and frightening, are only going to worsen, and we need to prepare now by investing in social supports like community resilience hubs to meet the needs of those most impacted.” Laura Gracia, CARE Coordinator, Communities for A Better Environment (CBE)

Jennifer Granholm 

“Covid-19, wildfires, and suffocating smoke have exposed gaping holes in our safety net, leaving the most vulnerable at risk and our frontline essential workers stretched to the breaking point. An equitable recovery will require leadership and policy solutions that invest in people and communities, like those offered by this report.”  said Jennifer Granholm, UC Berkeley School of Law & Goldman School of Public Policy and former Governor of Michigan

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Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) is an environmental justice organization that brings together California’s Asian immigrant and refugee communities to fight and win campaigns to make our communities healthy, just places where people can thrive. 

SEIU California provides a political and legislative voice for 700,000 workers in California, including home care providers, education workers, city, county, and state workers, nurses and other health care workers, janitors, security officers, airport workers, college professors, and more.

SEIU Local 2015 represents more than 385,000 home care, skilled nursing facility, and assisted living center workers, of every race, faith, and ethnicity, united in our commitment to caring for California’s vulnerable seniors and people with disabilities.

The BlueGreen Alliance unites America’s largest labor unions and its most influential environmental organizations to solve today’s environmental challenges in ways that create and maintain quality jobs and build a stronger, fairer economy.

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