BUILDING RESILIENT COMMUNITIES

Communities of color, economically disadvantaged areas, tribal and vulnerable communities are often located in the areas where polluting coal plants, refineries, toxic waste dumps and other industrial sites that emit dangerous particulate matter are concentrated. National studies have already shown that disproportionately high levels of pollutants in communities of color have created underlying health conditions, such as asthma, respiratory illness and cancer, that have increased coronavirus infection and death rates in these communities. Low-income areas and communities of color are also often hit hardest by economic downturns.

 

Now is the time to invest in building healthier, safer and more resilient communities, particularly frontline, vulnerable, Indigenous and communities of color that have suffered from disinvestment and been disproportionately affected by pollution for too long.

 

Investing in these communities will create a more equitable and just economy.

 

Specific Policy Proposals:
  • Expand funding for Federally Qualified Health Centers:  Substantially increase funding for the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Health Center Program to invest in community-based health care providers to ensure access to quality and affordable primary care services in underserved areas. These care providers offer critical health services to community members on a sliding scale, meet high standards for care, and operate under governing boards that include patients to ensure quality and affordable care. Federally Qualified Health Centers can include Community Health Centers, including those that provide services to migrants, homeless people and residents of public housing.

  • Invest in CDBG to build safe, healthy and resilient infrastructure and communities: Allocate at least $30 billion into HUD’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program and the CDBG Mitigation Program to support community and economic development projects in vulnerable communities. These grants will support the construction of affordable and resilient housing, public facilities, community centers and other community infrastructure -- including parks and other green infrastructure -- as well as programs to create economic opportunities and jobs, provide services to those in need, microenterprise assistance, code enforcement, homeowner assistance and other projects to improve community living conditions and quality of life. The CDBG grantees should be required to design projects that will build in measures to reduce the risks of future extreme weather and other emergencies and disasters, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and local pollution, lower energy bills through energy efficiency improvements, protect public health and safety, and meet high standards for heat and flood risk mitigation and storm protection. In addition, projects must be designed and implemented through community-driven planning that protects against community displacement.

  • Increase EPA’s Brownfields redevelopment funds to generate jobs: Allocate at least $2 billion to Brownfields redevelopment funds and grants to invest in communities and to help leverage more than 54,000 jobs related to the clean up and sustainable reuse of former industrial and contaminated sites, construction of affordable housing and community infrastructure, and the creation and expansion of parks and other greenspaces. Congress should direct EPA to require grantees to redevelop brownfields in ways that reduce the risks of future extreme weather events, meet high standards for flood risk mitigation and storm protection, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and local pollution through solar installations or use of other clean energy sources, lower energy bills through energy efficiency measures, and design and implemented projects through community-driven planning that protects against community displacement. 

  • Strengthen EPA Superfund site clean up efforts and programs: Allocate at least $20 billion for Superfund site clean up and $840 million for EPA's Superfund Emergency Response and Removal Program. Superfund and other toxic industrial sites are disproportionately located in low-income communities and communities of color. Currently, 53 million people are impacted by nearly 2,000 EPA superfund sites across the country. Increasing funding for Superfund site cleanup and emergency response would provide significant public health and safety benefits, such as a 20-25% reduction in birth defects and lead poisoning among children living near sites. These investments would also create new economic opportunities and improve quality of life in communities. Congress must also reinstate the EPA’s polluter pays provision to ensure a sustainable and long-term source of funding for Superfund site clean up and emergency response.

  • Increase funding for FEMA mitigation programs and ensure they prioritize frontline communities: Congress should provide at least $4 billion as a direct appropriation to FEMA’s newly created Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC). These funds would supplement the 6% disaster relief set aside, which is too low to meet current disaster mitigation needs, and confront the public health risks costs and risks of extreme weather events and disasters at a time when communities are already coping with the economic and public health crisis caused by the Coronavirus. Congress should ensure that at least half of these funds support grants to tribal communities, communities of color, and economically disadvantaged. Systemic inequalities have exposed these frontline communities to disproportionately high climate change risks and pollution from multiple sources, such as power plants, industrial facilities, and diesel trucks, among others. Congress should also provide $1 billion for the FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) as a direct appropriation to supplement the Major Disaster Declaration funds set aside for the program. Congress should ensure that at least half of these funds support grants to tribal communities, communities of color, and economically disadvantaged communities. In addition, Congress should provide $500 million per year for 4 years for FEMA’s Flood Mitigation Assistance Grant Program (a total of $2 billion) to reduce damages and public health and safety risks to communities caused by flooding. These investments will substantially lower the damages and costs associated with future disasters. Specifically, every dollar invested in disaster mitigation saves $6 in disaster damages and re-building costs.

  • Overhaul and expand grants to address environmental injustices: Congress should allocate $6 billion for EPA’s environmental justice grant program to support communities of color and vulnerable communities that are continuing to be disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, the economic downturn, and pollution. These grants are essential for communities to create self-sustaining, community-based partnerships to improve air quality, reduce exposure to toxic pollution and provide other environmental benefits. Congress should increase the size of environmental justice program grants from $30,000 to up to $500,000, and increase the grant period from one to two years. Increasing environmental justice grants can improve community health and create a significant number of jobs in low-income communities, tribal communities and communities of color. 

  • Re-invigorate EPA’s Office of Enforcement: Public health is already under attack in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we need to ensure the EPA is doing its job to keep our communities safe and healthy. Funding $560 million for EPA enforcement will ensure dirty corporate polluters are held accountable for harming our communities and comply with our nation’s environmental laws.

  • Bolster job training to clean up our communities and create stronger local economies: We must provide job and safety training for low-income communities and communities of color that face systemic racial and economic inequality that has created barriers to accessing jobs in environmental restoration, construction, handling hazardous materials and waste, and emergency response. By investing at least $100 million in the NIEHS Environmental Career Worker Training Program (ECWTP), Congress can not only clean up our communities, but also break down barriers to securing good-paying, green jobs and create a more just and inclusive economy.

  • Address the legacy of toxic mining and help those communities join the green economy: Areas that have historically depended on mining for jobs and to support the local economy need targeted and sustained support to a transition to cleaner sources of energy. By investing $10 billion in the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fund, Congress can support the reclamation and clean up abandoned mines and associated water pollution and restore sites to their natural state or prepare sites for economic and community development. These funds are critical to addressing the dangerous environmental effects of abandoned mines, such as polluted sites and streams and hazardous erosion, while supporting economic growth and job creation. Reclaimed sites can be used to support agriculture, renewable energy production, recreational tourism, and wildlife protection and other uses that create long-term economic opportunities and permanent local jobs, helping to lay a foundation for future economic development and diversification in coal communities. These investments would create job opportunities for coal miners suffering from black lung disease, who are at greater risk of complications and death from COVID-19. These investments would also benefit Native American communities, which have been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Navajo Reservation having more cases per capita than any state in the country. 

  • Increase affordable lending opportunities for disadvantaged communities: Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) are critical in promoting economic revitalization in disadvantaged communities across the country. These funds create jobs, affordable housing, financial health, and economic opportunity in the places that too often face racial and economic inequalities and barriers to employment and prosperity. Given their experience and success in responding to the devastation of extreme weather events like hurricanes and flooding and to the ongoing COVID-19 economic and public health crisis, CDFIs are well-positioned to address community needs and remain vital tools to creating local jobs and wealth, even during tough times. By providing a supplemental appropriation of $1 billion, Congress would allow CDFIs to leverage $12 billion in capital to support, including efficiency retrofits of existing buildings, access to renewable energy in underserved communities, and quality affordable housing and other critical community infrastructure.

 

  • Support local efforts to revitalize economies and improve human health and environmental outcomes: Expand funding for the EPA’s Office of Community Revitalization (OCR) to support community-driven economic development through grants and technical assistance programs, and locally-led efforts to improve public health and the environment. This program has a critical role to play in community-based revitalization as our nation begins to re-open by aiding small and minority businesses that would otherwise struggle to participate in larger loan and grant programs. The OCR can play a role in supporting capacity building in communities and acting as a resource to local agencies and nonprofits for navigating the federal funding process.

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