CPEHN believed that the decision-making power at the local level shouldn’t be in the hands of a few, privileged and predominantly white policymakers, but shared with “those who are closest to the issue.” Some counties agree.
“There are counties that are thinking 'Pandemic proved that there's something fundamentally wrong with how we're running our governments and making decisions. How can we change that? How can we not go backwards?' So they're hosting listening sessions and looping in their newly created racial equity offices and the stakeholder groups into their budgetary decisions. That has not happened before, and we would love for more governments to do that, including our state government," said Zhang.
Los Angeles County, which has an all women board of supervisors, is a perfect example of a country that is using the ARPA relief funds to undo some of the damage centuries of racism and disinvestment caused. CPEHN also found that San Bernardino and Ventura counties are also doing some innovative things around community engagement and promoting racial equity.
On the other hand, some counties have misused and abused the flexible public funds they received. Of the 12 counties that CPEHN reviewed, more than half sent money to the criminal legal systems including sheriff, probation and courts. In a few counties including Sacramento, Fresno, Kern, San Joaquin, and San Diego, the sheriff departments received funds to award “hero pay” to their officers. A few counties used the ARPA funds to replace “revenue loss” of their sheriff departments. And Ventura County, which CPEHN highlighted as a county that is doing moderately well in promoting equity and community engagement, proposed $20 million to upgrade their sheriff’s radio and IT systems.
“It's complicated. A county can be focusing on equity and still not fully commit to it, because again, these are deeply rooted local issues of funding going to law enforcement.”
In their research, CPEHN discovered that some counties did not even mention race in their health equity analysis and in any of their plans for how to spend the money.
“For them, race was simply not a factor. These were mostly politically conservative counties in the Central Valley. I'd like to think that the entire county government is not ignoring race. I'm sure there are folks in their public health departments or behavioral health departments that do use race and racism as part of their health equity analysis. But the county as a whole is not focusing on racial equity.”