California issued a stay-at-home order nearly three months ago at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, more than five million Californians have applied for unemployment insurance, according to the state's Employment Development Department.
Former presidential candidate, Tom Steyer is now chief advisor to Governor Gavin Newsom and works on his Task Force on Business and Jobs Recovery. As California begins rebuilding its economy, the Task Force is focused on lifting up minority groups that have historically been left behind.
“We’re not trying to go back to January of 2020. We're trying to work for a just, equitable, sustainable, and resilient California. We’ve said specifically that every single decision will be made in the context and the awareness of the underserved black and brown communities who are bearing the health brunt of this pandemic and the economic brunt of this very sharp economic contraction,” Steyer said.
Subcommittees ask key questions about every decision the Task Force makes: Is it serving low-income communities? Is it dealing with issues of racial prejudice? Is it working towards greater economic shared prosperity? Is it expanding opportunities for people who are underserved and in communities where opportunities are few?
“We have to see this as coming out together and for the people who are being disadvantaged and bearing the brunt of this. This is black and brown people. Our economic decisions are made with them first in mind,” Steyer said.
Underserved minorities were struggling with their health and wellbeing far before the global pandemic began in early 2020.
“The living circumstances of black people in this country constitute at the best of times, their own public health crisis,” he said. “The issues in Black Lives Matter are a public health crisis in and of themselves. We’re now ladling on COVID-19.”
Steyer said the Task Force has several goals. One is to close the digital divide by making sure that every household in California, and particularly all students, have high-speed internet so that they can participate fully in their education. Another focus is creating jobs for underserved people and making sure they get the right training to be able to work successfully. Additionally, the Task Force is addressing the issue of hunger.
“The code word for it is ‘food insecurity,’ but what it really means is there are millions of people in California who are hungry and specifically a lot of them are kids. That is something where that is a health issue,” he said. “I mean it's not just being hungry. It's about eating good food so that you can be healthy, so that you can perform as a kid, and so that your long-term health is much higher and better.”
Steyer said every decision the state makes from now on is from “a standpoint of equity, of racial equality, of moving for shared prosperity and creating opportunities for people who have been very, very short of opportunities and have been the subject of structural inequality.”
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