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Will Oakland get federal rescue dollars for anti-violence measures?

on November 4, 2021

City officials and community leaders want to pump newly available federal money into addressing the gun violence that has claimed more than 100 lives this year and the health inequities that enabled COVID-19 to devastate communities of color. 

Both Oakland and Alameda County declared gun violence a public health crisis in the hopes of speeding up the process of securing money from the American Rescue Plan, which passed in March. But the money is still tied up in red tape that could delay its release until next year, county officials say. 

“This is the second consecutive summer in a pandemic with no investment coming to Black and brown communities,” said Pastor Michael McBride, director of Faith in Action’s LIVE FREE campaign to reduce gun violence and the mass incarceration of people of color. “This is the second consecutive summer where communities are ravaged by death, where our infrastructure and our families and neighborhoods have been decimated by COVID-19.” 

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan provides emergency funds to help cities, counties, individuals and businesses weather the pandemic. The stimulus package earmarks $324 million for Alameda County, with half of the money coming in the first two years and the rest in the third and fourth years. Oakland received $192 million, which it used mostly to close its budget shortfall

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors is charged with allocating the $162 million in the first batch, with all but $48 million already designated to certain entities, such as the Health Care Services Agency for COVID-19-related testing, and contact tracing and the Social Services Agency for food assistance. The county has received about $1 billion in requests, though the formal application process is not expected to open until at least December.

One came from the African American Response Circle Fund, part of the Brotherhood of Elders Network, which requested $100 million in a formal letter to the board on June 7. Like Faith in Action, the circle fund wants to use the money to address health inequities, including gun violence. 

“We said, ‘This is the perfect opportunity to treat this like the crisis that it is, to do something extraordinary, do something transformational, do something that is different than business as usual,’” said Greg Hodge, director of the Brotherhood of Elders, which advocates for Black youth. 

The board passed a resolution to declare gun violence a public health crisis on June 29, and Hodge and McBride thought the declaration might help bring federal funds to Alameda County and to Oakland. When the Rescue Plan passed, county officials thought the declaration might quicken access to the money.

But District 3 Supervisor Wilma Chan said the board recently was told by federal officials that the funds could not be released under emergency authorization, the way the money was distributed last year under the coronavirus aid package. The supervisors, she said, are now lobbying federal officials to reconsider. 

With the city last month surpassing the 109 homicides committed in all of last year, community groups are frustrated with what they feel is a lack of urgency by elected officials. 

“Many of us don’t want to hear about procedural procurement problems. We want an expeditious investment and solution-oriented leadership, and we’re not getting there,” McBride said. “It’s painful to have to publicly say this because many of us respect the lifelong leadership and contributions of the Board of Supervisors, but they are failing us in this regard.”

On Sept. 21, Oakland City Council passed its own resolution declaring gun violence a public health crisis and calling upon the supervisors to provide money from the Rescue Plan to the city’s neighborhood violence prevention programs and other services. 

”We’re asking [the county] to contribute more deeply and equitably in this time where our community is being ravaged by the pandemic and these other multiple pandemics of structural racism and issues that we can’t take on by ourselves,” said District 7 Councilmember Treva Reid, who lost her son Brandon to gun violence in 2013. 

But the supervisors are not likely to give more money to Oakland, said Chan, noting that the city already received a direct earmark from the Rescue Plan.

“They chose to use that money to balance their budget,” Chan said. “We think it is not an equitable way of looking at needs and looking at how Oakland should be funding their priorities.”

Reid defended the City Council’s decision, saying that using the money to plug the deficit enabled Oakland to become more financially stable. 

Hodge said that Reid’s resolution is consistent with what community groups are requesting.. However, given the lack of collaboration between the board and the city, coupled with the complex procurement process, it is unclear whether or not communities will see ARPA funds anytime soon. 

Councilmember Carroll Fife, of District 3, said that without an investment into the health and well-being of Black and brown communities, declaring gun violence a health crisis accomplishes little. She said that to address violence, Black and Brown communities must first have better access to education, health care, clean air and clean water.

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Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to: oaklandnorthstaff@gmail.com.

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