“Properly resourced social infrastructure—health care systems, public health agencies, education, community-based services, and more—is necessary to prepare the nation for disasters, whether climate change or the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” said BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director Jason Walsh. “For too long our social infrastructure has been neglected and now—as COVID-19 devastates our communities—we are seeing the impacts of that shortsightedness.”
The platform released today, titled Social Infrastructure: A Platform to Ensure the Public Sector, Public Services, and Workers are Resilient for Future Crises and Climate Change, calls for a number of policy actions to fully invest in the public sector to ensure that the nation has the resources needed to help workers and the communities they serve adapt to climate change; modernize federal health and safety protections to address the realities of climate change and ensure policy enforcement; ensure workers’ rights, representation, and training; and rebuild and expand the social safety net.
“Our public sector workers are on the frontlines of a series of intertwined crises facing working people: economic, racial, health, and climate,” said Service Employees International Union (SEIU) International President Mary Kay Henry. “It’s not just state and local employees who we must support. Public workers include caregivers who hold the hands of our loved ones when they are sick and are ready to go to bat for a care agenda that recognizes we need to respect, protect, and pay them. We owe it to these workers to make the investments necessary to allow them to do their jobs efficiently and to keep them safe.”
“As a front line worker, I see how our nation has neglected the systems we rely on every day to protect us,” said Nancy Novak, a member of SEIU Local 721 in Riverside County, California. “It’s clear we need to invest in our people and I hope that Congress and President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris will act immediately.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 300,000 Americans, highlighting the gaps in the nation’s healthcare system. The pandemic has also cast a harsh spotlight on the racial inequality inherent in our nation’s social infrastructure with Black Americans accounting for 18.5% of COVID-19 deaths despite making up just 12.5% of the nation’s population.
“Our communities were plagued by austerity and lack of investment long before COVID-19, but the pandemic and ensuing economic and climate crises have only exacerbated the issues facing our states, cities and towns, as well as our public schools and the infrastructure on which our communities rely,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten “Educators, healthcare professionals, and public employees will need more resources to help rebuild in these difficult times, and help every person in America realize their right to thrive. We are calling on elected leaders to make these important investments in our future, and that of generations to come.”
After decades of neglect, the public sector was not prepared for COVID-19 and it’s not prepared for climate change. The world’s leading scientific organizations have been unambiguous that climate change is already a dire and urgent crisis, and just like COVID-19, climate change is already disproportionately impacting communities of color.
“To make us stronger in the face of climate change, we have to invest in our people,” said Mitch Bernard, Executive Director and Chief Counsel of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “We have to invest in the communities of color that are being hit the hardest by the impacts. We have to stand up for the public sector workers on the frontlines putting their lives in danger to help us withstand and recover from disasters. We have to fight for the transition to a clean energy future to be a just one, and look out for the workers who are building a better world for all of us.”
“We are confident that under the Biden-Harris administration we will see a renewed commitment to making the investments we need to restore the public sector and the public services we rely on for the well-being of the nation,” said Walsh. “At the same time, we need the 117th Congress quickly to work with the new administration to pass a recovery package that includes investments in social infrastructure.”