On June 12th, Mayor Walsh declared racism a public health crisis in Boston and announced that he would reallocate $12 million of the Police Department’s overtime budget to fund programs to reduce racial disparities, including $3 million on public health initiatives. This $3 million was reallocated to the Boston Public Health Commission in the Mayor’s final budget, which passed on June 26th.
Declaring racism as a public health crisis is a bold statement. It echoes growing awareness in the public health community that racism itself is a major social determinant of health. At the same time, I wonder what exactly this declaration can do to accelerate change since others in the city and the state have previously established the connection between racism and public health.
The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) is an independent public health agency which is governed by a board appointed by the Mayor of Boston. According to their website, “BPHC has been committed to racial justice & health equity in Boston since 2000.” In 2019 BPHC made ‘Racial Justice and Health Equity’ its priority in its strategic plan.
Massachusetts has additionally recognized racism as a public health issue in several ways. In 2017 as part of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s (DPH) revisions to their Determination of Need regulations, DPH created a Statewide fund of which the intersection of racism and public health as a defining characteristic. MACDC served on the fund’s advisory task force that recommended this focus on racial equity. Applicants to the fund were required to articulate how their project works to dismantle “policies, systems, and social/physical environments that are historically based in structural and institutional racism and other forms of oppression.” According to the Department of Public Health, “these forms of oppression need to be understood and disrupted to eliminate health inequities.”
Building on the Department of Public Health’s Determination of Need updates, the Massachusetts Attorney General clearly identified racism as a public health issue in her updated Community Benefits Guidelines for hospital in 2018 (MACDC also served on this Advisory Task Force!). Citing the BPHC (again – which has a board appointed by the Mayor of Boston), the Attorney General declared that racism both has an independent impact and also impacts other social determinants of health. The Guidelines recommend that “hospitals and HMOs should consider this framework and continue to recognize and address the role that racism and institutional bias play in impacting health outcomes in their communities.”
So, what is new about the Mayor’s announcement? First of all, an announcement from the top City official is an important statement – even if it’s one that reiterates something that’s been said before. It’s also important the Mayor’s term “Public Health Emergency” connotes appropriate seriousness and urgency. This is particularly noteworthy in the midst of another public health crisis – the COVID-19 pandemic. By using terminology that evokes this international crisis, the Mayor is signaling the importance of acknowledging the profound impact of racism on population and individual health. Lastly, it is important that this is a statement that is coming from a non-public health entity nor from explicit public health guidance. Mayor Walsh’s announcement makes clear that it is not just the people who think day-in and day-out about population health who are making the connection between racism and health. I hope that the Mayor’s declaration will influence people at all levels of government, across all industries and sectors, and across demographics to recognize this connection. Additionally, all levels of government, as well as hospitals and other healthcare institutions should follow Mayor Walsh’s lead and invest money in racial equity work. In addition to being the right thing to do, investing in racial equity work will lead to improved health outcomes and a reduction in health disparities.
Our world has dramatically changed over the past few months. All of us, even if we’re just staying at home, are addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. And all of us are striving to adjust to the “new normal”.
For MACDC, this means we haven’t changed our mission or vision, but we have responded to the crisis by increasing the work we do to help ensure that our members have the resources to respond to the needs in each city and town in which they work.
We wanted to highlight our activities since mid-March.As the pandemic continues, we will continue to update and modify our activities in response to the needs of our members and the communities they serve.
Factors to consider in Reopening CDC Offices
On May 18th, Governor Baker released his much-anticipated Reopening Massachusetts plan. Governor Baker’s plan divided businesses into four phases indicating when they could expect to re-open, often in limited capacities. Phase II began on June 8.
Reopening Massachusetts allowed offices outside of Boston to reopen at 25% capacity beginning on May 25th and offices within Boston to reopen at 25% capacity as of June 1st. Offices’ ability to reopen is predicated on their adopting necessary precautions, such as screening, social distancing, and requiring personal protective equipment, such as masks. Further, Reopening Massachusetts encourages offices to allow employees to continue to work from home when feasible. Just because a business has the legal green light to reopen doesn’t necessarily mean that the inherent risks and necessary precautions are worth the advantages of “going back to business as usual.”
As the state has begun to move toward reopening, MACDC has convened CDCs to engage in a discussion about how they are going to approach this process. While all CDCs face some of the same challenges, there are also significant differences – CDCs range in size from two or three employees to two or three hundred employees; some CDCs have plentiful free parking and others have employees who rely on public transportation; some CDCs offer programs that are difficult to sustain remotely such as child care and youth programming; and, of course CDCs, have different physical offices and different abilities to physically distance staff. As with so much in community development, one-size won’t fit all.
That said, there are many reasons that CDCs, and other offices, are exercising caution before reopening physical spaces:
- Even if an organization has done everything it can to ensure social distancing while in the office, employees still need to get to the office. While some workers have access to private cars or can commute by foot or bicycle, many rely on crowded buses and trains;
- Until daycare and other activities for children resume, parents and guardians may not be able to leave their homes during the day without adequate childcare;
- Benefits to a limited reopening may be minimal: with staggered schedules and necessary social distancing, colleagues may not have significantly more opportunities to collaborate than they would working from home. Potential for in-person collaboration will be further limited because of necessary restrictions on outside visitors.
Beyond concern for employees, it is important to consider the role that reopening offices will have on community spread of COVID-19. In addition to essential businesses, which could remain open even before Governor Baker’s reopening plan was in effect, many retail businesses cannot thrive and succeed without reopening. It is incumbent upon organizations that have found productive and sufficient ways to operate with employees working remotely to continue to do so, in order to prevent and slow community spread. These are among the reasons that MACDC employees are going to continue working largely at home until the beginning of September and all MACDC meetings and events will be done remotely at least through Labor Day.
Despite all of the reasons to be cautious in reopening, we know that some CDC activities cannot be done remotely. Construction, construction oversight, repairs, childcare, resident services and other functions cannot be done from home – or at least cannot be done fully from home.
We also know that for some CDCs and other organizations, bringing employees back to the office is important from a racial equity perspective. The jobs that can most easily be done at home are often the positions that have a larger percentage of white employees and vice versa. Therefore, for some CDCs, equity means bringing all employees back to the office, regardless of their job description.
It is important that every CDC carefully weigh all of the factors in determining when and how to reopen its offices.
Operating in the “new normal”
In mid-March 2020, the way we worked changed significantly. Home laptops suddenly started logging remotely into servers for most of a workday. Office voicemail was updated with away messages and notices that it’s being checked regularly. Video conferencing didn’t become an extension of an in-person meeting, but it became the primary way we collaborated.
It’s likely that even as our offices reopen partially, we won’t go back to operating our organizations as we did in February. Until there are effective treatments and maybe a vaccine, the COVID-19 pandemic will require many of us to continue to work remotely, at least partially, for some time. To ensure we are successfully achieving our organization’s mission and vision, we must evolve our business practices and embrace the current IT model of cloud-based computing.
To be sure, many organizations have already made significant strides toward, if not fully adopted, new operation processes that allow for less interruption. Laptops, cloud PBX phone systems, online file storage and databases allow for incredible flexibility in our ability to work collaboratively while we are physically distant from each other. Many organizations are using Salesforce or another CRM to help them support and streamline their day-to-day work functions. Other organizations moved away from office-based servers and embraced cloud file storage years ago.
The initial capital investment in new computers can be daunting, but funds can be raised for these costs. Grants and solicitations should be made expressly for this purpose. Migrating to online accounting systems and learning more about cloud PBX phone systems, secure email protocols to replace faxing of private information should all be addressed. It is also critical to adopt new transmission and storage protocols to ensure control of client, resident, and employee confidential information. These investments will pay dividends long after the pandemic is over.
All of this may seem overwhelming, but many organizations are already well on their way to accomplishing their IT and operations goals. And it’s not something to do on your own. Many CDCs already contract for outside IT consulting. Call them first to put together a plan that can be adopted in phases. Providing options for distance work that can address an organization’s needs is vital for long-term productivity. Efficient utilization of this technology can ensure that the organization’s focus is maintained as neighborhoods and towns reopen, while facilitating remote work to limit community spread of Covid-19.
Those interested in learning more about how CDCS are navigating the reopening process should contact Elana Brochin, MACDC’s Program Director of Health Equity, (firstname.lastname@example.org) or John Fitterer, MACDC’s Director of Operations (email@example.com).
MACDC stands with those protesting the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other African Americans in our Country.
We see these events as manifestations of centuries of white supremacy culture and institutionalized racism upon which this country was founded and which clearly persist to this day. We share the anger, frustration and sadness that these events provoke and the determination to help find a positive path forward.
We recognize that the structural racism, and the individual-level bias and bigotry, that we see in our criminal justice system is not unique. We see it in our public health and health care systems as the COVID-19 pandemic inflicts disproportionate harm on communities of color. We see it in our economic system as people of color once again bear a disproportionate share of the pain in our current economic crisis. We see it in our educational, housing, transportation and environmental systems. And, of course, all of this is directly connected to the inequities in our elections and political structures where voter suppression and unequal representation reinforce the status quo.
In recent years, MACDC has updated its mission statement to reflect a commitment to racial equity. We’ve adopted racial equity as an explicit organizational value and made it a priority in our strategic plan. We have mandated anti-racism training for our staff. We have held forums and launched programs to reverse inequities in our own organization and field. We have campaigned for policies that would reduce racial wealth and income inequality. Yet, all of this feels inadequate to the challenge. We ask ourselves - what more can we do? How do we need to change – individually and organizationally? What’s our role? We look for answers, or even steps toward possible answers. Can this moment and this pandemic be the impetus for something new?
The truth is that we don’t know.
What we do know is that all of us and each of us must commit to doing the hard work before us. So amidst our grief and anger, we take strength from being in community with all of you and in solidarity with the broader movement for justice sweeping our Country. And we will take heed of the words of our friend and teacher Mel King:
“Love is the question and the answer.”
The Department of Housing and Community Development announced on Friday, May 15, 2020 that they would be using newly available CDBG money from the CARES Act to support housing relief, micro enterprise grants and social services. The funding notice calls for $10 million to be used for rental relief in non-entitlement communities (largely rural and suburban communities) and to be delivered through the existing RAFT program network. This advances one of the core policy recommendations for which MACDC has been advocating since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.
The notice also invites municipalities to submit collaborative proposals – potentially in partnership with CDCs – to offer micro enterprise grants to businesses impacted by COVID-19. This is also aligned with one of the top policy priorities for which we have been advocating. We’re also pleased that municipalities can apply for funding to provide vitally-needed social services, including food assistance, to people impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. The inability of families and individuals to access healthy food has been noted by several CDCs, who are involved in efforts to respond to this burgeoning need.
We thank Governor Baker, Secretary Kennealy and Undersecretary Maddox for listening to our recommendations and responding with concrete action that will help families, business owners and communities across the state. (Note – cities in Massachusetts already received a direct allocation of CDBG earlier this year).
DHCD has also received an additional $26 million in CDBG money in Round Two of the CARES Act program and will be releasing that money in the coming weeks. This second round of funding will be available statewide, including our cities.
One of the many reasons that I appreciate working at MACDC is that our work is, by definition, responsive to current events in our communities as well as in the larger world. While many people are struggling to transfer their “normal” work to a virtual platform, at MACDC, we are looking to re-evaluate our priorities in the context of the current situation.
On March 11th, our President and CEO, Joe Kriesberg shared a story with and issued a challenge to the MACDC staff:
In 1986, Joe was a junior staff person working for Ralph Nader at the Critical Mass Energy Project in Washington, DC focused on nuclear power issues when the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded. Joe asked his boss what he should do? How should his work priorities change? His boss responded, “you work on safe energy issues; a nuclear plant just blew up; figure out how to do something productive.” As Joe tells it, that was the end of the guidance. Joe reached out to Ralph Nader to schedule TV appearances for him and brief/prepare him for those appearances. It was Joe’s first opportunity to work directly with Ralph and see him in action. It was an amazing learning experience for him that left him with stories and lessons that he calls upon to this day.
Through sharing this story, Joe made clear to me and other MACDC staff that the world has changed and that the status quo no longer applies. Joe emphasized that it is each of our responsibilities to figure out how best to leverage our particular role, skills, and knowledge to support our mission, our members, and the larger community during this time.
Joe’s challenge was both exciting and unsettling – and it has been particularly interesting for me as the “public health person” on staff at MACDC. In the midst of a global pandemic, everything is related to health. Accordingly, my days these last few months have involved keeping my ear to the ground on many different conversations, including:
- A weekly gathering of large affordable housing managers in Boston, in which they discuss concerns surfacing at their properties;
- An offshoot of the group of housing managers who have recently convened to discuss issues particular to mental health issues in our communities;
- A weekly call in which folks surface issues specific to elderly populations;
- Concerns specific to immigrant populations that have surfaced among our members;
- Ways in which our members are involved in food distribution in their communities.
These conversations have enabled me to better understand issues that many of our CDCs are encountering and to understand what resources are available to address these issues. And they are pushing me and MACDC into networks, issues and challenges that are new for us.
The current situation has also highlighted importance of partnerships in the public health space, in particular MACDC’s partnership with the Massachusetts Public Health Association (MPHA). MPHA has been one of MACDC’s key partners for many years and in the last year since we’ve had a full-time staff person dedicated to health equity work (that’s me!), our partnership has deepened. When MPHA announced that it was convening an Emergency Task Force on Coronavirus and Equity this past March, it was a no-brainer that we would be actively involved.
The Task Force met for the first time on March 17th. For many of us, this was our first week of working from home and convening over Zoom, so this virtual meeting which drew staff from over 50 organizations, was particularly noteworthy. At this first meeting, the group efficiently broke into groups according to issue area. Each group then identified two or three policy priorities for which they wanted to see action by the state in the next week. When participants re-convened as a whole, participants voted on the identified priorities, narrowing the list down to four priorities, which included:
- Enacting a Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures
- Passing Emergency Paid Sick Time
- Providing Safe Quarantine for People Experiencing Homelessness
- Ensuring Immigrants Have Safe Access to Testing and Treatment
Following the initial meeting, organizations interested in becoming members of the Task Force were asked to affirm their support for the mission of the Task Force to drive equitable policy change to combat the ways in which racism, poverty, and xenophobia are furthering marginalization in the face of COVID-19.
As of mid-May, the Task Force is comprised of close to 80 members, has added three new priorities, and has actively advocated for and tracked progress on the original four priorities. The Task Force saw early successes with the state’s moratorium on evictions and foreclosures which was enacted, and the emergency paid sick time legislation that was filed – both at the end of April. I am part of the Task Force’s Strategy Team which meets weekly to guide the work of the Task Force and plan full Task Force meetings.
Through the Task Force on Coronavirus and Equity, MACDC is pushing the state to act quickly on crucial policy issues that are outside of our traditional wheelhouse. The Task Force’s priorities are, however, in clear alignment with our mission and affect the communities in which our members work. Sitting on the Task Force on Coronavirus and Equity, together with participation in a broad range of conversations on COVID-related challenges, is my response to Joe’s invitation. During this devastating time, I am leveraging my role to strengthen MACDC’s relationships with partner organizations and the broader public health community, to effectively respond to issues affecting communities throughout Massachusetts.
Ad Hoc Massachusetts Small Business COVID-19 Response Coalition Recommends Improvements to the Paycheck Protection ProgramMay 15th, 2020
MACDC joined with community-based organizations, CDCs, CDFIs, and advocates across the state to send recommendations to the Small Business Administration (SBA) for improvements to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The recommendations focused on two broad areas: 1) recommendations to simplify and improve the implementation of PPP Rounds 1 and 2; and 2) recommendations for the next phase of small business assistance. Nearly sixty organizations collaborated on these recommendations and sent them in a letter to the SBA and the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation.
The coalition is calling for the following modifications to the program:
- To provide businesses with more time to use PPP funds and to extend the program until December 31, 2020;
- To provide businesses with more flexibility on how to spend the funds by reducing or eliminating the requirement to spend 75% of the dollars on payroll;
- To clarify and simplify the forgiveness requirements;
- To automatically forgive small loans;
- To allow businesses to refinance the unforgiven portion of a PPP loan into a longer term loan;
- To collect demographic and geographic data of PPP participants;
- To recycle dollars recouped through loan repayments; and
- To expand language accessibility.
The group further called on the SBA and Congress to design future small business support efforts in a way that more directly addresses racial inequities and targets resources to the businesses that need it the most.
In April, DHCD announced $7.7 million in allocations to 46 CDCs and two Community Support Organizations (MACDC and LISC Boston) through the Community Investment Tax Credit (CITC) Program. (See table below for list of organizations and amounts allocated)
In the program’s first six years, over $55 million was raised for community development programs across Massachusetts. These funds are helping CDCs to work with residents in their communities by providing vital affordable housing options, access to services for families, and support for aspiring entrepreneurs, as well as programs to help ensure that community residents can not only become stabilized, but also thrive and benefit from our Commonwealth’s economy.
Commenting on the 2020 CITC allocation, John Fitterer, MACDC’s Director of Operations, said, “the CITC program is very important to the community development movement in Massachusetts because it’s helping drive support into neighborhoods and town across the Commonwealth. As we navigate the COVID-19 crisis, support for the field is even more critical than before. The CITC program will help ensure that communities have access to the resources they need.”
|Allston Brighton CDC||$125,000|
|CDC Southern Berkshire||$150,000|
|Coalition for a Better Acre||$75,000|
|Codman Square NDC||$200,000|
|Community Development Partnership||$200,000|
|Dorchester Bay EDC||$120,000|
|Franklin County CDC||$200,000|
|Harborlight Community Partners||$200,000|
|Housing Assistance Corp. Cape Cod||$200,000|
|Housing Corp. of Arlington||$125,000|
|Island Housing Trust||$200,000|
|Lawrence Community Works||$200,000|
|Madison Park CDC||$200,000|
|Main South CDC||$150,000|
|Metro West CDC||$60,000|
|Neigborworks Housing Solutions||$125,000|
|North Shore CDC||$125,000|
|The Neighborhood Developers||$200,000|
|Worcester Common Ground||$125,000|
|Worcester Community Housing||$150,000|
|Worcester East Side||$100,000|
MACDC Partners with MGCC to Offer Multi-Lingual Translation Resources and Technical Assistance to Massachusetts Small Businesses Applying for the SBA’s Paycheck Protection ProgramApril 27th, 2020
MACDC has teamed up with the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation (MGCC) to support Massachusetts small business owners, including those with limited English proficiency, by providing multilingual translation and application assistance for the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
Since PPP applications are only available in English, these services are critical for small business owners in Massachusetts impacted by COVID-19, who would otherwise be unable to tap into the SBA’s economic relief resources. All small businesses in Massachusetts are strongly encouraged to use these resources when applying to the second round of PPP at their local, participating bank once available. Please be advised, MGCC and MACDC are not eligible lenders for the program. A list of participating PPP lenders can be found here.
This initiative brings together 49 Technical Assistance (TA) Providers located throughout Massachusetts, and organized under the Small Business Technical Assistance Grant Program to utilize their skills. The PPP application has been translated into 19 languages and is available to download on MGCC’s website, along with a list of TA Providers sorted by language proficiency and communities serviced, that small business owners can connect with for guidance on the application process.
Languages include: Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, Cantonese, French, French Creole, Italian, Russian, Vietnamese, Greek, Arabic, Cambodian, Somali, Amharic (Ethiopian), Filipino, Nepalese, Korean, Japanese and Thai.
“When MGCC recognized the opportunity gap for minorities, immigrants and other small business owners with limited English proficiency to access the Paycheck Protection Program, we immediately knew we needed to tap into this strong small business support team of TA Providers,” said Larry Andrews, President of MGCC. “With their participation, access to PPP suddenly becomes inclusive and encourages diverse businesses to explore relief possibilities in this difficult time.”
“Every day we see examples of how long standing racial and economic disparities are disproportionately impacting communities of color. That is why our economic relief and recovery efforts must reach our entire small business community, including communities of color, immigrant, and lower income communities,” said Joseph Kriesberg, President of MACDC. “Thankfully, Massachusetts has a network of dozens of community-based organizations with trained staff who can deliver culturally competent and multi-lingual assistance to help these business owners access public and private resources to help them survive and recover from this crisis.”