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Addressing Structural Inequality with the American Rescue Plan

June 20, 2021

Dear Constituent:

Economic inequality in the U.S. has been growing rapidly in recent decades. This is reflected in the concentration of wealth among fewer and fewer households, leaving tens of millions of Americans living “paycheck to paycheck” without any financial security.

According to a 2019 Institute for Policy Studies report:

  • Since 1983, the richest 0.1 percent have more than doubled their wealth while the median American family's wealth has fallen 3%.
  • During the same period, median Black wealth has fallen by more than 50% to $3,600 (just 2% of median White wealth) and median Latino wealth has fallen to $6,600 (4% of White wealth).
  • Twenty percent of all U.S. households now have zero or negative wealth, and the figures for Black and Latino families are 37% and 33% respectively.

These undeserved and deeply harmful disadvantages for so many Americans (especially, people of color) are not the result of "bad choices." They are "structural" - meaning the rules of the economic game we all have to play are tilted towards benefitting the rich, creating a slippery slope into poverty for many in the middle class, and ensuring those in poverty have virtually no chance of ever climbing out.

Here in Columbia, about one-quarter of all residents live below the poverty level and almost one-half of children qualify for free or reduced-price lunch at school because of food insecurity at home. About 13,000 rental households (56% of all renters) and more than 3,000 owner-occupied households (27% of all owner-occupiers) are "cost-burdened" with housing and utility costs higher than 30% of household income.

And that was before the pandemic!

The American Rescue Plan

The City of Columbia will receive about $25 million as a result of the American Rescue Plan Act, which was passed by Congress in March.

The purpose of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) is to "deliver immediate economic relief to families," with funds channeled through local governments to be used to "support the public health response and lay the foundation for a strong and equitable economic recovery."

During tomorrow's City Council Work Session and Public Comment Period (5:00 pm at City Hall), Finance Director Matthew Lue will present his Summary of Eligible Uses for the City of Columbia, which includes:

  • Addressing public health disparities
  • Economic investments in housing and neighborhoods
  • Assistance to households, unemployed workers, and small businesses/nonprofits
  • Premium pay for essential workers
  • Public jobs programs

Following the presentation, City Council will hold a Public Comment Period so community members can provide input on how the City should invest its ARP funds. This $25 million represents a generational opportunity to address structural inequalities which were exposed and exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, so it's important that City Council hears from everyone who cares about Columbia's future. Please attend tomorrow's Public Comment Period or email me and my Council colleagues to share your recommendations.

Thanks to those of you who have already made specific suggestions for ways to ensure all residents are able to contribute to a stronger Columbia and have access to a decent quality of life. These include:

  • Creation of a 24-hour Homeless Services Center
  • Affordable housing investments through the Columbia Community Land Trust
  • Expansion of the City of Columbia's rental and utility assistance programs
  • Workforce development, childcare services, and small business support
  • Physical and behavioral health care services for uninsured individuals

Community violence (which is a consequence of structural inequality) has become a devastating problem in Columbia. In a recent review of research evidence, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice identified mitigating financial stress, engaging and supporting youth, and treating substance addiction as effective violence reduction strategies. These approaches would create economic opportunity in neighborhoods which have suffered neglect, discrimination, and hopelessness. They are consistent with the 2014 Recommendations of the Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence and could be implemented with ARP funds.

Here are a few more articles about ways the American Rescue Plan could address structural inequality:

Please let me know your thoughts on the opportunity presented by the American Rescue Plan. What general goals should we adopt in Columbia to strengthen our community? Which specific initiatives do you support?

Constituent Conversations

I will be holding Constituent Conversations Online from 2-4pm on Sundays, July 4th and August 1st. Here are the videoconference/dial-in links:

Zoom Meeting or phone 1-301-715-8592, Meeting ID: 989-9269-1796

Upcoming dates are always available at my web site.

Cheers, Ian