Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sustainable Urban Development Act 2010

New legislation sponsored by John Kerry, called the Sustainable Urban Development Act of 2010 (S. 3229), directs the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to focus on urban planning and governance issues because this is a priority of US foreign policy.
The legislation calls for USAID to address common issues in cities of the global south, including growing informal settlements, increasing levels of pollution, overburdened transport systems, and lack of affordable housing, land tenure, gender equality, and basic water and sanitary infrastructure. The legislation calls for updating the Making Cities Work Strategy, and focusing on supporting urban planning and governance strategies, with an emphasis on community participation in decision-making. establishing a senior adviser for urban sustainable development at the agency and launching a 'pilot urban strategies initiative' implemented in select cities in the global south.
Some more commentary on this important legislation from the Cities Alliance and IRIN news.

Read more about the Making Cities Work Strategy here.

Health care legislation, disparities & healthier places

Lost in the media coverage of March 2010's Health Care legislation (namely the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010) were some important provisions to address health inequities experienced by both populations and places. Here are some of the important sections I've found. Please send me yours.

SEC. 2303. COMMUNITY HEALTH CENTERS = $9 Billion allocation!
SEC. 3132. TASK FORCE ON COMMUNITY PREVENTIVE SERVICES = with a focus on health disparities.
HEALTH EMPOWERMENT ZONES = community-based projects that address multiple causes of health disparities.
SEC. 399Z-1. SCHOOL-BASED HEALTH CLINICS = Communities with high percentages of children and adolescents who are uninsured, underinsured, or eligible for medical assistance under Federal or State health benefits programs.
SEC. 339. GREEN SCHOOLS = improving the physical quality of the school environment.

OK, not enough, and we should already have a government run health system for all, but these additions to the legislation should contribute to addressing health inequities.  Better sumthin' over nothin'.

Racism & wealth in the US

In 1903, W.E.B. DuBois said in The Souls of Black Folks: "To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardship."
One of the most important, but ignored in most US media, stories of the last week highlights this hardship in a striking way.  A study,  published by the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University (one of my alma maters) found that the wealth gap between blacks and whites quadrupled between 1984 to 2007; from $20,000 in 1984 to $95,000 in 2003! This gap persisted for African Americans and white families in the same income range. Wealth is defined by what you own minus what you owe, so this is a much more robust and important measure than income or poverty status. What we need to remember is that income quality doesn’t lead to racial wealth equality and this helps explain the persistence of racial and ethnic health inequities!

These data are disturbing for blacks and Latinos, and especially for single women of color:

One reason for this is racism in our policies - such as tax cuts for investment income (the tax rate on capital gains income is only 15%  while ordinary paycheck income is taxed at 35%) and inheritance taxes - both of which benefit the already (mostly white) and wealthy.  Persistent discrimination in housing, credit (think predatory/subprime lending, credit-card debt and pay day loans/check cashing stores), and labor-markets also perpetuate these wealth inequities.

The solutions? TARGETED PUBLIC POLICIES, with the federal government leading the way! Federal policies must close tax loopholes exploited by businesses and redistribute the wealth of the rich - whose wealth often relies on federal government built highways and tax codes.  New wealth building opportunities must be targeted to families and communities of color whose lives and health are made even more precarious by not having enough assets to stay healthy when an economic challenge arises.