Last week, several staff members from The Center for Community Solutions flew to Washington, D.C. to join a delegation of Ohio advocates and policy thinkers at IMPACT 2018, a state policy conference hosted annually by The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). IMPACT is one of the largest and most diverse gatherings of state policy professionals in the country, attended by people who work in every state to make a difference in the lives of low-income Americans through policy change. The theme of this year’s conference was “Building Momentum for Equity and Opportunity.” Throughout the large plenary and small breakout sessions, presenters repeatedly made the connection between racial equity and public policymaking.
Throughout the large plenary and small breakout sessions, presenters repeatedly made the connection between racial equity and public policymaking.
The opening plenary session featured a panel of four leading advocates and organizers to speak on the significance of the 2018 midterm elections in terms of elevating the voices of women of color in the policymaking process. The panelists, all of whom were women of color, spoke to the record number of women and people of color elected to Congress and state legislatures in the November elections, noting the importance of legislative bodies being more reflective of all the people they represent. But panelist Tram Nguyen of the New Virginia Majority emphasized that elections are “not a finish line,” but a starting point toward advancing policy agendas that prioritize racial equity. The panel celebrated candidates who were willing to start conversations about race, noting that it can be a difficult topic to talk openly about. But panelists made the case that talking about race with white voters helps to inoculate race as a divisive issue. Anne Price, President of Insight CCED, shared that throughout her career, she felt pressure to tackle issues of race “under the table,” many times being told to talk about economic policy in terms of class rather than race. Price told the IMPACT audience that “anti-racism is at the very heart of economic policies.” Ashley Allison, of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, drove this point home saying “when we don’t talk about race, we end up putting policies in place that are Band-Aids on cancer.” The group pointed to the example of work requirement policies for Medicaid and food assistance, which elevate the prejudicial narrative that “black people don’t want to work.”
Over the two-day conference, presenters and participants in dozens of breakout sessions discussed how issues of race and equality underlie debates around policy decisions such as tax reform, criminal justice reform, teacher pay, census funding and administrative efforts to undermine Medicaid expansion. Other sessions featured strategies to leverage data, conduct fiscal analyses and craft messaging to advance racial justice in public policy.
As we develop our work plans for 2019, and prepare for the state budget debates, Community Solutions intends to continue these conversations through our work by considering the potential for policy decisions and political processes that may disparately impact racial and ethnic minorities.
One of the most moving parts of the conference came from what are called “Impact Talks.” This segment consisted of four presenters, who each gave 10-minute presentations about various policy changes that they have championed in their states. One presenter from Virginia talked about the years-long effort to enact Medicaid expansion, which starting January 1, will cover 400,000 citizens in Virginia. Another presenter from Rhode Island shared her story of the legislative victories of expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and paid family leave, which both impact the daily lives of working families. The next presenter hailed from Louisiana, where he described how difficult it can be to advance investments in social programs in a state that firmly embraces fiscal conservativism. That being said, he described how African-American legislators, in particular, held firm in their negotiations to pass a state budget that ensured that the EITC was expanded in their state. He explained how data provided for each district was critical to winning bipartisan support for the idea. The final speaker was from Oklahoma, where teachers and other advocates pushed their state legislators to expand revenue to help support teachers and other critical public services. Each presenter received a standing ovation, as they wove together success stories, grounded in research and the real-world impact on people’s lives.
By the end of 2018, every Community Solutions staff member will have completed a two-day training conducted by the Racial Equity Institute, helping each employee be more aware of our own implicit biases and how to overcome them.
This year, The Center for Community Solutions is committed to widening our own lens on racial equity issues. By the end of 2018, every Community Solutions staff member will have completed a two-day training conducted by the Racial Equity Institute, helping each employee be more aware of our own implicit biases and how to overcome them. These skills will be used when searching for solutions to problems both within our organization and outside of it when it concerns our priority policy areas. Several staff members recently launched a “racial equity reading group” to ensure we continually have intentional, thoughtful conversations about race among colleagues, rather than shying away from what can be an uncomfortable subject. As we develop our work plans for 2019, and prepare for the state budget debates, Community Solutions intends to continue these conversations through our work by considering the potential for policy decisions and political processes that may disparately impact racial and ethnic minorities.