In summary

The California Health Equity and Racial Justice Fund would provide resources to address inequities that existed before the pandemic and worsened in its wake.

By Rod Lew, Special to CalMatters

Rod Lew is executive director of Asian Pacific Partners for Empowerment, Advocacy, and Leadership, rodlew@appealforhealth.org.

As the violence against Asian Americans erupted to climax with the tragic mass shooting in an Atlanta-area business this spring, our community reckoned with what it means to be Asian American. Of the nearly 7,000 hate incidents against Asian Americans, including vandalism, assault and even murder, 40% happened in California

Yet hate is only one of the devastating effects of the pandemic on the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities in California. COVID-19 is not the root cause of the disparate health outcomes our communities face, but it has escalated the systemic issues of unequal access to assistance and resources.

These outcomes become even more extreme when we break down the data by ethnicity. Despite suffering the highest COVID-19 infection and mortality rates, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have received minimal assistance, and often are left out of surveys and other data collection.

Our state is home to the largest Southeast Asian community in America — more than 1 million people, including Hmong, Cambodian and Lao. A glance at these communities illustrates why it is important to collect data for distinct ethnic groups. All three groups earn at least 37% less per capita than white individuals, and in the case of the Hmong, they earn a quarter of what whites make. Southeast Asians have one of the lowest educational attainment rates and are more likely to be uninsured. Inequities in these communities, including housing and food insecurity, have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

 The recent spotlight on our communities reminds us of the need to collect data identifiable for specific ethnic groups. And while both the federal and state governments have taken steps to address hate and disparate health outcomes of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities during the pandemic, California must do more.

Today, we have an opportunity to change the narrative. The state Senate and Assembly budget committees have recommended establishing a California Health Equity and Racial Justice Fund, with an annual allocation of $100 million to support community-based organizations, clinics and tribal organizations to address the most pressing inequities in their communities. The proposal builds on Assembly Bill 1038, which proposes creating a California Health Equity Fund and just passed in the Assembly with a landslide of bipartisan support. The next steps are for the full Legislature and the governor to support the bill and budget proposal.   

The fund will dedicate resources to support community-based initiatives to tackle the underpinnings of bias and violence perpetrated against Asian Americans in California. Through grants to nonprofit organizations, clinics, tribal organizations and local health departments already working on pandemic recovery initiatives, the equity fund will help address community violence and hate crimes, housing, food security, health care, economic stability, education and child care, and environmental justice. 

Grants will be awarded based on specific community needs identified through state and local data, underscoring the need for data specific to our communities. Disaggregated data will help break down the monolithic myth of “Asian” that in reality is a composition of several races and ethnicities, and ensure that state and local governments, as well as community-based organizations, have accurate data so that resources can get to the communities that need them.

While community organizations are working hard to battle Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander hate crimes, and to improve safety and overall well-being, they need support. AB 1038 will tackle, at the local level, short- and long-term problems created by the pandemic. That is where it is needed most. 

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An editor’s note: Asian Pacific Partners for Empowerment, Advocacy, and Leadership is a co-sponsor of Assembly Bill 1038. 

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