Allies for Reaching Community Health Equity Releases New Factsheet About Federal Infrastructure And How It Affects Community Health & Economic Well-Being

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Factsheet Includes Policy Solutions On How To Improve Underserved Communities

One of many tidbits about infrastructure pointed out in the new factsheet.

Low-income households spend about 42 percent of their income on transportation compared with the 22 percent spent by middle-income households.

Today, Allies for Reaching Community Health Equity (ARCHE), an initiative of the Center for Global Policy Solutions (CGPS), released a factsheet, Promoting Health and Equity for Underserved Communities in Federal Infrastructure Legislation. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has recently graded American infrastructure as below standard, noting that failure to invest in infrastructure improvements will result in a loss of almost $4 trillion to the country’s GDP and 2.5 million jobs within the next 10 years, and will cost the average family $3,400 per year.

Across the country, there is bipartisan agreement we need to address this issue. However, while Members of Congress and President Trump have both released plans to address our nation’s crumbling roads and bridges, neither have made the strong connection between community health and economic development and how they are affected by infrastructure investments. As the factsheet highlights, missing from the conversation about infrastructure is the unique tie between inadequate infrastructure and the overall health and economic well being of a community, especially underserved communities including low-income communities of color and rural areas.

Below are some highlights from the factsheet:

THE PROBLEM
1. The pedestrian fatality rate for people living in low-income areas is twice that of people living in upper-income areas. The inequality seen in pedestrian fatalities is in part due to poor investment in pedestrian infrastructure, including fewer street lights, sidewalks, crosswalks, and traffic-calming measures like traffic-circles.

2. Low-income households spend about 42 percent of their income on transportation compared with the 22 percent spent by middle-income households.

3. Example: In New York City, blacks have a 25 percent longer commute than their white counterparts. Additionally, residents who earn less than $35,000 per year are 11 times more likely to have commutes greater than an hour each way than those earning over $75,000.

SOLUTIONS
1. Provide employment opportunities that promote a diverse workforce, provide health benefits, and guarantee worker protections:
a. Incentivize Diversity In Federal Contracts: Given continued high rates of unemployment and underemployment among women, communities of color, and rural areas, labor contracts resulting from federal infrastructure funding should include recruitment and hiring practices that ensure diversity across gender, race, and ethnicity, and protect workers by guaranteeing safe working conditions, fair wages, overtime pay, paid sick leave, and health insurance.
b. Example: How To Create Pathways To Hire Those In Underserved Communities: In 2007, for example, during the construction of the Washington Nationals’ baseball stadium in Washington, D.C., which at the time was a majority-minority city, project labor agreements included provisions that guaranteed 50 percent of new hire and apprenticeship opportunities be given to D.C. residents. This project generated more than $12 million for local residents and their families.

2. Promote economic development and greater inclusion of women and minority businesses, and rural communities in the economy:
a. Create A Minority Business Hub: To reduce discrimination in government contracting, the Minority Business Development Agency advocates for developing a uniform capacity assessment of firms, the creation of a centralized bidding notification hub, and research on the economic impact of discrimination in hiring Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs).
b. Increase Access To Broadband: Almost 40 million Americans living in rural communities, 10 percent of people in urban environments, and 41 percent of schools lack access to high-speed broadband. Broadband internet access provides a vital linkage to jobs, fuels small business growth, and drives innovation in business, healthcare, economic development, and other sectors. Investing in expanding broadband in underserved areas will connect people and communities to opportunities that open doors to economic stability and prosperity.

3. Facilitate healthier and safer communities:
a. Improve Walkability Scores: Communities with higher walkability scores (i.e., proximity to businesses, parks, schools, and pedestrian-oriented design) enjoy better overall well-being. The presence of green spaces, parks and bicycle paths encourage healthy living by prompting higher rates of physical activity. Walking and biking are associated with lower cardiovascular and breast cancer risks and better mental health. Facilitating no- and low-cost physical activity options in low-income communities through healthy built environments can help reduce the rates of obesity and other chronic diseases among residents.
b. Create Complete Streets: Low-income communities tend to be more hazardous than communities inhabited by middle- and high-income populations. Adopting policies requiring “complete streets”— interconnected street networks accessible and safe for users of all ages, abilities, and modes of transportation—for infrastructure projects can safeguard against these risks for injury and death.     
c. Eliminate Food Deserts: Prioritizing the elimination of food deserts through infrastructure investments would provide rural and urban communities with greater access to affordable and nutritious foods. Pennsylvania’s Fresh Food Financing Initiative is a public-private partnership that promotes the development of grocery stores in underserved communities. To date, the partnership has developed 83 grocery stores in 27 rural and urban communities.

4. Use several policy tools to advance infrastructure equity:
a. Incentives for Hiring Unemployed Workers: In 2010, Congress passed the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act. The law included payroll tax credits for employers that hired unemployed workers and included $20 billion for highway and transportation projects. By prioritizing hiring of the chronically unemployed, federally funded infrastructure projects can play a role in reversing the trend of high unemployment and underemployment rates among African American men, older workers, and other disadvantaged groups. The subsidized employment programs in the 2009 stimulus bill discussed in the fact sheet is another important model of how federal legislation can create jobs and increase earnings for low-income workers.
b. Fair Wage Protections: The Davis-Bacon Act should be included in all federal infrastructure legislation and enforced to ensure that workers receive, at minimum, the equivalent pay and benefits as the local workers in their area. Federal law requires that construction projects that use federal funds provide the prevailing wage to workers. Using and enforcing the prevailing wage protects workers by providing a living wage, benefits, and overtime compensation. The Davis-Bacon Act should be incorporated in infrastructure legislation to ensure that workers are not exploited.
c. Disparate Impact Assessments: Under federal law, no federal funds may be used in a manner that discriminates against minority and low-income communities. To ensure that undue burdens are not placed on disadvantaged communities, racial impact assessments are conducted to determine how projects using federal funds impact minority and low-income populations. However, because these guidelines are not always regulated or enforced, two key civil rights provisions should be included in federal infrastructure legislation:
i. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits recipients of federal funds from discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin.
ii. Executive Order 12898: Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations requires federal agencies to assess disproportionately high and adverse environmental and human health or environmental effects of federal programs on minority and low-income populations in order to ensure equitable environments for all communities.
d. Health Impact Assessments (HIA)s: HIAs should be conducted before major infrastructure projects begin to determine how these proposed plans would affect the health and well-being of vulnerable communities. It is important to conduct an independent health assessment because many traditional impact assessments have a narrow de nition of health.
e. Targeted and Set-Aside Approaches: Targeted approaches should be used to ensure that traditionally disadvantaged groups and communities have a fair chance to participate and benefit from jobs and contracts generated from federal infrastructure investments. So that communities most in need benefit from infrastructure improvements, funding should be set aside to prioritize projects targeted to underserved communities. This would allow for inclusion without direct competition against more affluent municipalities. Criteria defining target areas should be set to effectively direct infrastructure resources to areas experiencing high poverty, unemployment, and/or health disparities. Existing federal government contracting programs, including 8a, minority and small disadvantaged, and women-owned businesses set-aside programs, should be used to their fullest extent to ensure equity in contracting for infrastructure projects.

To read the full report, please click here. If you are interested in discussing more or speaking with an ARCHE expert, please contact Sabrina Siddiqui, Siddiqui.Sabrina(at)gmail(dot)com, 713-906-1363.

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