New Administration Should Focus on Consumer Protection

Capitol Weekly
By Sharon Velasquez

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, California today ranks as the 5th largest economy in the world, surpassing the United Kingdom. To flourish, great economies like California’s need consumer protections and oversight of financial markets. California has one single state agency charged with both, the Department of Business Oversight

Given the Trump administration’s rollback of consumer protections and enforcement at the federal level and California’s influence in shaping national policy, the DBO is essential in protecting California’s consumers.

Despite its crucial role, DBO remains one of the least known agencies in the entire country. With over 360,000 lenders and 40 million consumers under its purview, California would only benefit if the DBO had more support and resources to fund its work.

To our future governor, consumer advocates respectfully request that you prioritize consumer protections and the DBO to ensure financial prosperity for all Californians.

So, what exactly is the DBO, who does it regulate and why is it important?

What is known today as the Department of Business Oversight (DBO) came to life in 2013 when Gov. Jerry Brown merged the state Department of Corporations and the Department of Financial Institutions. He combined these 100-year-old departments to increase efficiency and cost effectiveness; to honor their original missions both became divisions within the DBO.

The DBO is led by Commissioner Jan Owen, appointed by the governor and approved by the state Senate.

All consumers, but especially consumers of color, need a vigilant consumer watchdog in order to fully and fairly participate in California’s prosperous economy.

For instance, studies show that people of color still face redlining in the mortgage market, racism in small business lending, credit card redlining, and other barriers to credit. At a time when the Trump administration has scaled back federal fair lending enforcement and investigations into predatory practices. California needs to stand strong in advancing a sound and inclusive economy.

The DBO staff of 641 has oversight of over 360,000 lenders and 40 million consumers, with a budget of about $90 million per year.  In its consumer protection capacity, the DBO oversees, and regulates institutions including banks, credit unions, savings associations, trust companies, securities brokers and dealers, and commercial and consumer lenders such as mortgage lenders, payday, and online lenders  — commonly referred to as financial technology, or FinTech, lenders.

The DBO’s oversight of FinTech is particularly important because the federal government has failed to issue responsible regulations that ensure transparency and address algorithmic redlining, among other harmful business practices. Algorithmic redlining can be defined as the systemic denial of products and services by machines replicating the biases of their human creators. Instead, the federal government has given FinTech companies the option of an OCC charter that circumvents state-level consumer protections.

This doesn’t mean that all online lenders are bad. For instance, several publicly endorsed and even informed the Small Business Borrowers’ Bill of Rights and were leaders in passing SB 1235, the nation’s first small business truth-in-lending law, through the California legislature.

More industry leadership is needed, DBO regulation and oversight remain necessary to shed light on lending practices across the industry. To quote Justice Louis Brandeis, “Sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

In terms of consumer protection, the DBO ranks second in importance only to California’s attorney general.  In similar fashion to the federal consumer watchdog, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (now being gutted by the Trump administration), the DBO provides financial education and alerts to consumers, as well as a complaint database where consumers can report harmful financial practices so these can be investigated. As a mini-CFPB, the DBO also pursues enforcement actions against abusive lenders.

How can our next governor support the DBO? By taking the lead on increasing the DBO’s budget, increasing enforcement resources, supporting the hiring of more analysts and investigators, investing in DBO staff, providing the technology for the DBO to evaluate FinTech algorithms, bolstering the DBO’s regulatory power, and amending the California Financial Code to clarify the DBO’s mission as a consumer protector.

The Trump Administration has made its disinterest in consumer protection clear. CFPB Acting Director Mick Mulvaney has openly expressed that he will move the CFPB less aggressively in enforcement matters and will leave matters to the state regulators and attorneys general. Now more than ever, working families look towards their state leadership to step in and protect consumers when the federal government can’t or won’t.

Narrative Justice: A Daughter of Black Immigrants Reflects

Small Business Exchange Online
By Asia Alman

I am of a history of cross-border movements that no right-wing political administration can contain. My folks are the kind of loud, and Black, and women dreamers who everyday disrupt U.S. binaries of “Black” and “immigrant” by being both at the same time: Black immigrants. Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, my mother taught me to never forget her island of Trinidad and Tobago. Because of my family’s love for home, I carry my heritage into all that I do.

As a Health Equity Fellow in the Greenlining Leadership Academy, I am encouraged every day to seek #ChangefromWithin by bringing the fullness of my identity into my work. My experience as the daughter of Caribbean Black immigrants is essential to my developing racial equity framework. At Greenlining, we believe that our narratives are our strongest asset. We know that we have all we need to survive and that when race is no longer a barrier for communities of color, we will thrive.

I first learned of the Leadership Academy last year, while conducting oral history interviews with Senegalese women seeking asylum in Brazil. At the time I was completing a Thomas J. Watson Foundation Fellowship. As a Watson Fellow, I received a $30,000 grant to invest in my passion for uplifting the experiences of Black women and other women of color in spaces where our voices are often marginalized.

Watson allowed me to expand my U.S. based research on the hardships that Black American and undocuBlack women and girls face to a global scale. During my Watson year, I conducted an international oral history project focused on the narratives of African and Caribbean immigrant women in China, Dominican Republic, Brazil, and London for whom pathways to citizenship are blocked. I also traveled to Jamaica and worked with organizations that supported recently deported Jamaicans who were returning from the U.S. and the U.K.

In each interview, Black immigrant women stated the conditions that limited their access to a healthy life. At the same time, these Black immigrants were plotting ways to overcome the obstacles they faced.

These women articulated their experience with ease.

They knew what they needed.

Leadership Development: #ChangeFromWithin

Yet anti-Black stigma, high costs, and citizenship status requirements barred them from accessing quality healthcare. Many of the same barriers stop Black people and other communities of color in the U.S. from accessing healthcare.

I am charged by the weight of Black immigrant women’s narratives to make access to a healthy life available to all. I believe in the strength of women of color whose collective actions can shatter glass ceilings and push us to believe in the impossible. Think of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Alexandria is a Latina woman from the Bronx who, in her first campaign, recently defeated a congressman who held his position for 12 years.

I trust the narratives of black immigrants and of women of color to lead me as I identify the obstacles that stop girls and women of color from achieving their goals. I am dedicated to girls like us. I am dedicated to creating pathways for us to achieve what we define as success.

Asia Alman is Greenlining’s Health Equity Fellow. Follow her on Twitter.

Over the next year we’re continuing our #ChangeFromWithin blog series with posts from our newest cohort of Fellows. They will explore their own personal transformation, #ChangeFromWithin, and what that means for leadership development. You can read Patrick Brown’s introduction to the series here. Here at Greenlining’s Leadership Academy, we’ve been on a journey. We invite you to join us.

The Dems Have Taken Back the House, Now Here’s What They Should Do

400 billionaires now own more wealth than the bottom 64% of Americans. Let’s do something about that.
The Progressive
by Kỳ-Nam Kwon Miller

The Democrats have taken back the House of Representatives in what feels like a clear rejection of the false promises and bigotry of the Trump administration. But now, they must go beyond anti-Trump rhetoric and push bold ideas to advance opportunity and prosperity for the vast majority of Americans being left behind by the policies of Washington, D.C., and Wall Street.

In our $19 trillion economy, a well-connected few have done spectacularly well, while more and more working Americans struggle to make ends meet. Democrats must chart a real path to prosperity that can replace failed, trickle-down economics – one that invests in and uplifts Americans on the margins and breaks down barriers to opportunities.

House leaders should announce a bold agenda for their first 100 days. They can start by aggressively pushing for two bills introduced in the Senate earlier this year that have gone nowhere under Republican leadership: the “LIFT the Middle Class Act” from Sen. Kamala Harris, Democrat of California, and the “American Housing and Economic Mobility Act” from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts. Both would help ordinary Americans who got little or nothing from the GOP’s massive tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.

Harris’ bill would provide a refundable tax credit of up to $6,000 for low-income and middle-class Americans, bringing some balance into a tax system that has become grotesquely skewed toward the wealthy. Warren’s deficit-neutral measure would address our growing housing crisis by building or rehabilitating 3.2 million housing units; assisting first-time homebuyers living in low-income, formerly redlined neighborhoods; and investing $2 billion in long-overdue support for buyers whose home equity was obliterated in the 2008 crash.

Warren’s bill also takes initial steps toward strengthening the Community Reinvestment Act, a little-known but important law that dates from the late 1970s. The law, written to fight redlining – the practice whereby the federal government joined with banks and other institutions to deny mortgage loans to people of color – needs an update to deal with changes in the financial industry. Redlining, though technically illegal, never completely went away.

These proposals represent a good start, but Congress could and should go even farther. We need a Community Reinvestment Act for the 21st century that harnesses the tech economy to invest in opportunity in every American community.

By giving a fair shake to all and opening doorways to opportunity for those who have the least, we can build prosperity for all of us – not just the 400 billionaires who now own more wealth than the bottom 64 percent of Americans.

It’s true that none of these proposals will become law quickly, so long as the GOP controls the Senate and the White House. But no important change comes quickly. We can start building a better, fairer America, and Democrats now have a chance to lead the way.

This column was written for the Progressive Media Project, affiliated with The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.

Congress Should Pursue Shared Prosperity

Santa Maria Times
By Ky-Nam Miller

The Democrats have taken back the House of Representatives in what feels like a clear rejection of the false promises and bigotry of the Trump administration. But now, they must go beyond anti-Trump rhetoric and push bold ideas to advance opportunity and prosperity for the vast majority of Americans being left behind by the policies of Washington, D.C., and Wall Street.

In our $19 trillion economy, a well-connected few have done spectacularly well, while more and more working Americans struggle to make ends meet. Democrats must chart a real path to prosperity that can replace failed, trickle-down economics – one that invests in and uplifts Americans on the margins and breaks down barriers to opportunities.

House leaders should announce a bold agenda for their first 100 days. They can start by aggressively pushing for two bills introduced in the Senate earlier this year that have gone nowhere under Republican leadership: the “LIFT the Middle Class Act” from Sen. Kamala Harris, Democrat of California, and the “American Housing and Economic Mobility Act” from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts. Both would help ordinary Americans who got little or nothing from the GOP’s massive tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.

Harris’ bill would provide a refundable tax credit of up to $6,000 for low-income and middle-class Americans, bringing some balance into a tax system that has become grotesquely skewed toward the wealthy. Warren’s deficit-neutral measure would address our growing housing crisis by building or rehabilitating 3.2 million housing units; assisting first-time homebuyers living in low-income, formerly redlined neighborhoods; and investing $2 billion in long-overdue support for buyers whose home equity was obliterated in the 2008 crash.

Warren’s bill also takes initial steps toward strengthening the Community Reinvestment Act, a little-known but important law that dates from the late 1970s. The law, written to fight redlining – the practice whereby the federal government joined with banks and other institutions to deny mortgage loans to people of color – needs an update to deal with changes in the financial industry. Redlining, though technically illegal, never completely went away.

These proposals represent a good start, but Congress could and should go even farther. We need a Community Reinvestment Act for the 21st century that harnesses the tech economy to invest in opportunity in every American community.

By giving a fair shake to all and opening doorways to opportunity for those who have the least, we can build prosperity for all of us – not just the 400 billionaires who now own more wealth than the bottom 64 percent of Americans.

It’s true that none of these proposals will become law quickly, so long as the GOP controls the Senate and the White House. But no important change comes quickly. We can start building a better, fairer America, and Democrats now have a chance to lead the way.

My Pacoima Community and Speaking Out Against Environmental Racism

Small Business Exchange Online
By Denise Garcia

I come from a community — Pacoima, California —  and a family where love, humor, and culture ensure my people’s survival. Mine is a family of home-cooked enchiladas, loud and long-lasting dance fiestas, and unconditional love. We turn to our values to sustain our lives, even as low-income migrants and first-generation folks. Though all odds are against low-income people of color, we resist and survive in the face of environmental racism and other obstacles. Surviving is the only way we know how to live since the power of place has shaped our lived outcomes, for good and for worse.

My beautiful Pacoima roots my passion and diligence in the work I do as an advocate fighting environmental racism. Growing up, Pacoima had long hot summers filled with water balloon fights and Sunday mornings con mi familia en la casa de mi abuelito, Rosalio, comiendo menudo y pan dulce. My brothers, friends, and I played ball in the park religiously and ate elotes, raspados, y paletas from local vendors. Pacoima, covered with vibrant murals under the many highways, intrigued my imagination and sparked my creativity. Pacoima holds a collection of my earliest and most enjoyable memories of my childhood, family, and culture.

Although most of my memories of my hometown are positive, Pacoima was not as beautiful as my mind painted it to be. While in college, I learned about environmental racism & injustice and realized the abundance of pollutants concentrated in my hometown. The traffic pollution, industrial sites, and landfillserode my community with harmful and dangerous toxins, which negatively impact all forms of life. While in college, I learned Pacoima was redlined because there were too many black and brown folks and was identified as undesirable, resulting in a segregated ghetto. Similarly to other low-income, redlined, and marginalized communities of color, Pacoima lacks investment in public schools, public parks, and job opportunities. Climate change will exacerbate these inequities, leaving the rich richer and the poor poorer in all capacities.

Rather than just surviving, communities like Pacoima, need to thrive. To overcome systematic hardships like the environmental racism I grew up with, community members must use their voices to amplify the change we need in order to flourish. And I cannot expect a positive change for my community unless I am also willing to change, grow, and transform. White supremacy and capitalism systematically impact people of color, and yet, we are still here! This type of resiliency and strength gives me the courage to embark on new journeys, which led me to pursue this year-long Fellowship with The Greenlining Institute.

Pacoima, CaliforniaDuring my Fellowship, I hope to gain the confidence and strength to use my voice in a way that creates positive change that my community and so many other similar communities need. I recognize I have missed many opportunities because I chose to stay silent. Now I want to courageously articulate my thoughts and represent communities like mine to ensure they are prioritized and considered in political decisions.

Communities like Pacoima and hundreds of others impacted by environmental racism need more activators who speak out against injustice, advocate for change and empower the community through education. My voice holds an infinite amount of power, but I often put myself on mute when I get afraid or feel intimidated. This fear of speaking out derives from the guilt and pressure of being a 1st-generation college graduate. I feel immense pressure to be successful and perceived as intelligent to prove to my family that their sacrifices and hard work were worth it. This exacerbates my silence because I’m afraid of making mistakes or saying the wrong things. This year, I will embrace my mistakes, learn from them and continue to grow. I hope to see myself transform into a confident and outspoken womxn and bring this power of voice back to my community.

“You are seen, heard, and valued here” are the words imprinted into my memory from the first day of orientation at The Greenlining Institute. I can trust this organization when staff say they value my personal narrative, experience, and potential. With this growing trust, I am ready to see my #ChangeFromWithin and to see how my #PacoimaBeautiful can also transform.

Denise Garcia is Greenlining’s Environmental Equity Fellow. Follow her on Twitter.

Over the next year we’re continuing our #ChangeFromWithin blog series with posts from our newest cohort of Fellows. They will explore their own personal transformation, #ChangeFromWithin, and what that means for leadership development. You can read Patrick Brown’s introduction to the series here. Here at Greenlining’s Leadership Academy, we’ve been on a journey. We invite you to join us.

Commentary: Health Care Merger a Poison Pill for Patients

ArcaMax
By Anthony Galace

Big corporations often tout their mergers as promoting efficiency and helping consumers, but too often the public ends up with fewer choices and higher prices. That seems likely to happen again with the latest health care megamerger.

CVS Health and Aetna Inc. recently finalized a $70 million merger, combining one of the nation’s largest pharmacy chains with one of its largest insurers. The companies promise a new and innovative form of health care, with cheaper medication and shorter wait times.

But even though the deal has won approval from the U.S. Justice Department and 28 state regulators, physicians, patients, economists, and advocates aren’t buying it. The American Medical Association, American Antitrust Institute and leading economists across the country warn that this merger will do nothing to curb rising prescription drug costs, stagnating health coverage rates or deteriorating quality of care. In fact, they say it may worsen health care disparities between disadvantaged communities and more affluent populations.

CVS’s newfound power could significantly reduce competition by driving independent pharmacies out of business and forcing other large pharmacy chains to consolidate – driving up prices and increasing premiums and out-of-pocket costs for seniors and low-income patients. Furthermore, this merger will likely force patients with health coverage through Aetna to purchase their medication from a CVS pharmacy, taking away their right to choose.

Earlier this year, testifying before the California Department of Insurance, CVS claimed that its acquisition of Aetna would result in “efficiencies” (read: savings/profits) worth $750 million per year, allegedly by streamlining administrative expenses and negotiating better prices with pharmaceutical companies.

But when asked at the hearing I attended whether these savings would be passed along to patients, CVS was mum. The company’s rep also could not say how it planned to make medication more accessible to low-income and underserved communities, especially those located far from a hospital or clinic. We also asked whether they would expand their contracting with minority-owned businesses, diversify their governing board and senior executives, and add stores in low-income neighborhoods. Their response: Ask us after our merger.

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice under the Obama administration blocked two high profile health insurance mega-mergers – between Aetna (yes, the same one) and Humana, and Anthem and Cigna. Both would have obliterated competition in insurance, giving patients and providers across the country little choice but to accept their prices and payments. These mergers would have likely priced many low-income Americans out of health coverage.

In retaliation for blocking their merger, Aetna pulled out of the Affordable Care Act exchanges entirely, abandoning thousands of patients.

Now they expect us to believe they’ll do better. Color us skeptical.

All this comes on the heels of another recently approved merger between another large pharmacy chain and health insurer – Express Scripts and Cigna. Given the growing trend of consolidation among health care companies, expect these companies to continue to sell the same old story that has never come true: Give us more power, and we’ll be better, we promise. Advocates and regulators shouldn’t buy such promises.

 

Why Don’t We Riot Over Wealth Inequality?

Common Dreams
By Alvaro Sanchez

Tell people their gas taxes are going up and they will riot, literally.  Tell people that 62 individuals hold the same amount of wealth as the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world’s population and we don’t blink an eye. Okay, maybe we do a hard blink but we certainly don’t riot. Or perhaps gas tax riots are actually severe wealth inequality riots in disguise?

France has been embroiled in mass and violent protests to proposed diesel and gas tax increases that have forced France’s government to suspend its plans to increase taxes and to also immediately freeze prices on electricity and home heating fuel. The proposed taxes, meant to curb climate change by weaning motorists off petroleum products and to generate funding for renewable energy projects, were received negatively by several sectors of the French population. Their message carried out by the “gilets jaunes” (yellow vest) movement resulted in violent protests in Paris and caused four deaths.

A number of U.S. publications chimed in on the French protests claiming they show a Global Carbon Tax Revolt, claiming that people from Washington to Ontario to France are saying no to taxing carbon. But what they conveniently portray as a revolt on carbon taxes (which happens to match their ideological opposition to climate action) I see as a sign of frustration and impotence over massive wealth inequality.

Let me explain.

Wealth inequality has widened all over the world, leaving many people struggling who previously enjoyed more secure prosperity. In the U.S. and France the cost of living continues to increase while wages and earnings stagnate for most. At the same time the top earners seem to accumulate all the wealth: in 2017 Oxfam reported that the top one percent secured 82 percent of all wealth while the bottom 3.7 billion who make up the poorest of the world saw no increase in their wealth. Favorable tax policies for the rich in the U.S. and France’s recently approved budget show signs of exacerbating wealth inequality in those countries, leaving people with scarce resources contributing greater amounts of their income to basic necessities like housing, food, health care, education, and transportation. And when government needs to step in to rescue someone from economic collapse, it seems to only bail out corporations like banks, automakers, and utilities.  Regular citizens do not seem to enjoy the same level of concern from decision makers about our economic well being.

But why do people riot over gas taxes and not massive wealth inequality? Because we feel the economic pain from a gas tax increase more intensely and immediately than structural systems that help a very small set of people to accumulate wealth. All people can understand a gas tax increase.  Very few people can explain the income ramifications from the 2017 tax reform approved in the U.S., the largest tax reform of last 31 years.

In my opinion, the French gas tax riots stem from the same place as growing resentment towards immigrants globally, increased scrutiny over social welfare and entitlements, and growing right wing populist movements: scarcity. People wouldn’t riot over a gas tax if they could afford it. Instead, people in France are rioting and some media outlets in the U.S. blame it on the French elite supposedly pushing their climate agenda on the people. They are wrong.

My proof is California. In the world’s fifth largest economy, residents of California have made it abundantly clear that we want our state government to act on climate.  We’ve been pricing carbon since 2013, collecting over $8 billion from polluters to invest in our state to fight climate change.  In our most recent election we also soundly defeated an effort to repeal a gas tax approved by the California legislature in 2017, which has invested almost $10 billion to improve the state transportation infrastructure. And there is no sign of our residents slowing down our ambition and urgency to combat climate change, having recently approved an effort to generate 100% renewable energy by 2045.

And while all these actions are good news for climate policy and California, there are warning signs from France’s gas tax riots. California has not been able to address our own income inequality challenges, and while our residents continue to support ambitious government action to fight climate change we have to be very intentional about implementing strategies that fight poverty and pollution at the same time. In fact, we are not pricing carbon nearly high enough to ramp down our use of fossil fuels; so if we want California residents to continue to support our fight against climate change we must address income inequality.  We must do this not so people can afford to pay higher taxes on fossil fuels but so that people can afford to live, work, play, learn, and prosper in a world that is healthy, resilient, equitable and thriving. Meaning a world free of fossil fuels.

My Turn: Self-Driving Cars Must Not Leave the Rest of Us Behind

CalMatters
By Alvaro Sanchez and Susan Shaheen

Starry-eyed predictions aside, critical issues are missing from the discussion about how self-driving cars will revolutionize  transportation.

Low-income Californians cannot lift themselves out of poverty if they lack reliable transportation. Without it, they cannot gain access to jobs, education and other opportunities.

Too often, transportation decisions prioritize the movement of personal vehicles that are often out of reach of low-income households. We must break this cycle.

Available figures consistently show that lower-income Americans spend a higher percentage of their income on transportation than the wealthy do, and a Harvard study found that a lengthy commute impairs a person’s ability to escape poverty.

People who drive increasingly get stuck in traffic. No wonder many people see the coming age of driverless cars as just the sort of magic bullet that will solve these problems. They are wrong.

Self-driving vehicles won’t fix these problems. The problem is not one of technology. Rather, the problem stems from a failure to prioritize people over cars.

Many supposed transportation revolutions, from buses and streetcars, to interstate highways and Uber, have led to increased segregation and growing wealth gaps between the rich and the poor.

Self-driving technology could exacerbate entrenched social and environmental problems, if we don’t make deliberate policy choices, especially for marginalized groups.

We can easily imagine a dystopian scenario in which people with money purchase personal self-driving cars, while the rest of us are mired in congested streets, with reduced mobility as public transit gets short-changed due to ridership loss.

We could have a society of transportation haves and have-nots even worse than what we see today: The affluent few whisked around effortlessly in self-driving cars, while the less well-off struggle to get around.

Unregulated, we could see a driverless car future that increases inequality, as high-income people become the natural early adopters, with companies catering to them and leaving poor people and people with disabilities behind.

Further contributing to the wealth inequality associated with the deployment of self-driving vehicles is the potential job loss associated with automation. Our research shows this will particularly impact African-Americans and Latinos, who hold a high percentage of transportation-related jobs.

So how do we make this technological revolution work for all Californians?

  • We must seize this opportunity to create a transportation system that is rooted in people and promotes vibrant, healthy, and clean places for people to live, work, and play—places that prioritize  the movement of people over the movement of cars.

When The Greenlining Institute reviewed the issues in depth, we found that part of the answer lies in what some call FAVES–fleets of automated vehicles that are electric and shared–if governments guide their development with smart policies designed to meet the needs of all users, including marginalized populations.

  • Second, equity must be a central focus in the research, development, and deployment of fleets of automated vehicles that are electric and shared, and other forms of driverless vehicles to ensure that these emerging mobility services meet the needs of all marginalized groups.

Money saved by having driverless trains and buses can be used to lower fares for low-income riders and improve service. We might also require fleet operators to not limit their services to high-profit areas but also provide mobility in rural communities and low-income neighborhoods.

We could also mitigate job loss associated with automation by guaranteeing a just transition for impacted workers, with training programs that have real jobs at their conclusion and a strong social safety net for people who can’t find new employment.

And we should consider requiring fair labor standards for the new jobs this emerging industry will create, in addition to prioritizing the hiring of marginalized populations.

  • Third, we must embrace mobility equity. Automated vehicle technology should support and contribute to creating a just and fair transportation system that provides mobility options for underserved populations, reduced pollution, and enhances economic opportunities.

With focused policy interventions, we can create a clean transportation system that works for all, bridging the divide between rich and poor rather than worsening it. A transportation revolution is arriving. This is one time we can’t be asleep at the wheel.


Alvaro Sanchez is environmental equity director at The Greenlining Institute, alvaros@greenlining.org. Susan Shaheen is an adjunct professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Berkeley and is co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center, sshaheen@berkeley.edu.

California Must Address a Statewide Latino Physician Shortage

California Health Report

Despite California’s leadership in expanding health coverage to a record number of Californians, we have a crisis that hardly anyone is addressing: Our state still fails to provide the quality—and quantity—of care needed by our largest ethnic group.

According to research from the UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Initiative, Latinos represent over 40 percent of California’s population but make up less than 12 percent of graduating physicians from the state’s medical schools. At the current rate, it will take 500 years to reach a point where the number of Latino physicians is proportional to the number of Latino patients.

On January 15, The Greenlining Institute, the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, and the Latino Policy & Politics Initiative hosted a policy briefing to discuss solutions to address California’s Latino physician crisis. This discussion came hours after the California Future Health Workforce Commission released its formal recommendations to modernize the state’s health workforce delivery system.

Despite an extensive analysis, the commission’s report did not adequately highlight the gravity or scale of our Latino physician crisis. To put this into context, there are approximately 405 non-Hispanic white physicians for every 100,000 non-Hispanic white patients, but only 46 Latino physicians for every 100,000 Latino patients.

It’s no coincidence that communities of color—who are underrepresented in almost all health professions—are disproportionately affected by poor health outcomes. According to the federal Office of Minority Health, Latinos suffer from heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases at much higher rates than whites. Furthermore, they are less likely to have health insurance and are twice as likely to live at or below the poverty level.

This health vulnerability means Latinos urgently need access to culturally and linguistically appropriate care.

Increasing the number of Latino physicians across the state will benefit all Californians. Having diverse physicians who are culturally and linguistically competent improves the quality of health care for everyone.

How can we address this crisis? For starters, the Latino Policy & Politics Initiative recently released a series of landmark policy briefs outlining the various challenges Californians face in accessing health care and the reforms needed to address the lack of Latino physicians. We need to increase medical school admissions for Latino students and Spanish speakers, incentivize Latino medical school graduates who are trained out-of-state to practice in California, certify more physicians trained outside of the United States to practice in California, and increase the number of California residency slots. One key proposal urges state legislators to appropriate at least $100 million to expand residency slots. In addition, medical schools must ensure their admissions programs robustly recruit Latino students.

So far, Gov. Gavin Newsom has followed through on his promises to make health care a priority. He released a budget expanding health coverage to undocumented young adults up to the age of 26, appointed California’s first surgeon general, and threw his support behind a flurry of proposals aimed at increasing affordability, access and quality of care across the state—all in his first week in office. This bodes well for California’s future, but it’s not sufficient to address the health needs of California’s culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

If the state continues to turn a blind eye toward the Latino physician crisis, we risk perpetuating or worsening health disparities that harm the Latino population and other disenfranchised communities. Action on this issue requires policymakers, educational institutions and health employers to prioritize racial equity and move boldly to address our critical shortage of Latino physicians.

Sonja Diaz is the executive director of the UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Initiative. Jeffrey Reynoso is the executive director of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California. Anthony Galace is the director of health equity at The Greenlining Institute.

How Self-Driving Cars Could Harm Marginalized Communities

EcoWatch
By Hana Creger

Everyone’s talking about self-driving, autonomous vehicles these days. Late last year General Motors announced that it will shut down production of several conventional car lines, partly to pour resources into its self-driving car unit, and GM is just one of many companies ramping up such efforts, alongside Google, Tesla, Uber and a slew of others. But what kind of transportation future will this autonomous vehicle revolution bring? And who will it benefit? In a country with an increasing divide between rich and poor, what will this whiz-bang technology mean for marginalized groups such as the poor, people of color, the elderly and those with disabilities?

Some observers have imagined a sort of transportation heaven—no more space wasted on parking, less smog, easier commutes and cleaner air as the autonomous fleet electrifies. More realistically, other writers have argued we face a heaven or hell choice, with many possible downsides. While the spotlight has been fixated on the shiny new technology itself, what has been largely hidden in the shadows is how self-driving vehicles will impact our most marginalized people. Depending on how self-driving cars are deployed, we could see a growing mobility divide between haves and have-nots—an alarming prospect in places where soaring housing prices are already pushing low- and moderate-income residents farther away from their jobs and into long, punishing commutes. But this mobility divide has enormous implications beyond just commute times.

Access to mobility is the key that unlocks economic opportunity, education, health care and a better quality of life for Americans, so we should all be concerned. A Harvard study found that a person’s commute time is the single greatest factor in their ability to pull themselves out of poverty and up the economic ladder. And for low-income households, a chronic lack of affordable and reliable transportation options remains an insurmountable barrier to improving their lives.

Our car-centric culture and infrastructure contribute to economic inequality. While survey data have varied over the years, available figures consistently show that lower-income Americans spend a higher percentage of their income on transportation than the wealthy do. Those who can’t afford their own vehicles struggle to get around on underfunded public transit or unsafe sidewalks and bike lanes. It’s a strong possibility that the rise of driverless vehicles will only widen these disparities: Those with lots of money will lounge in the comfort of their personal self-driving cars while everyone else is stuck in increasing gridlock or on deteriorating public transit. If we make it too easy for people to own self-driving cars, this will only further entrench everyone in a transportation hell of bumper-to-bumper traffic. And while congestion is an irritating inconvenience to all of us, marginalized people will be hurt the most by deteriorating public transit, a loss of driving jobs and a transportation system that prioritizes cars over people. We need to get this right.

At The Greenlining Institute, we’ve just done the first analysis to look in detail at the social equity implications of the coming transportation revolution, especially for those who are too often ignored in transportation planning, like people of color, low-income folks and residents of rural communities. The best answer, we found, lies in what are sometimes called FAVES: fleets of autonomous vehicles that are electric and shared. FAVES lets us connect self-driving technology to the two other big changes now revolutionizing transportation: electrification and the proliferation of shared-mobility services, including Uber and Lyft, as well as many alternatives.

FAVES, deployed correctly and in tandem with increased walking, biking and public transit, can be the “magic bullet” that improves mobility for people at all income levels, cuts pollution and greenhouse gases, and helps make cities more livable. This isn’t some futuristic fantasy; FAVES are already here. A multitude of companies are operational, such as Transdev, which has transported 3.5 million people in their electric self-driving shuttles.

But even FAVES won’t have these positive social equity and environmental effects if we leave essential decisions to the marketplace. Left alone, companies will do just what you’d expect: cater to customers with disposable income and ignore the broader implications for communities and for marginalized folks. We’ve already seen glimpses of what a “hell” future might entail, with evidence suggesting that ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft have cut into transit ridership and increased traffic congestion in some urban areas. Without oversight, what would prevent transportation companies from ditching their drivers for robots to double their profits? We can’t allow the private sector to dictate the terms of this transportation revolution. We have to demand that self-driving vehicle technology fits into a vision of a fair transportation system that reduces pollution and contributions to climate change, and doesn’t just leave those with driving jobs in the dust.

For the coming transportation revolution to truly benefit all, we’ll need strong regulations to, among other things:

  • Discourage personally owned autonomous vehicles and encourage FAVES fleets. We can do this with equitable “road pricing” that waives fees for low-income people. The “heaven” scenario of cleaner air, less space wasted on parking, and reduced traffic simply can’t happen without FAVES.
  • Ensure affordability for people at all income levels, and guarantee availability of autonomous ridesharing services in low-income communities and other places the market might neglect, like rural areas—with fleets that are right-sized to meet local needs.
  • Guarantee equitable access to FAVES for those with disabilities, people who lack a smartphone or high-speed internet access, or who do not speak English.
  • Ensure a just transition and retraining programs for the millions whose jobs will eventually be eliminated by automation, such as bus and truck drivers, and guarantee fair labor standards for the new jobs created in this emerging industry.
  • Protect, enhance and prioritize the healthiest and most environmentally friendly transportation options, such as biking and walking.

We must demand that government at all levels increase investments in walking, biking and public transit infrastructure. Building more car-oriented infrastructure has never been the solution to our congested, polluted and unjust transportation system. Self-driving cars are only the latest distraction from what real innovation would look like in American transportation. A real transportation revolution would transform our cities into clean, vibrant places that are designed for people to live, work, and thrive—not de facto parking lots for their cars.

We have a unique opportunity to create a transportation system that prioritizes moving people over cars. If we get it right, the coming transportation revolution can be a vehicle to help fix transportation injustices while contributing to better mobility, more livable communities and greater economic prosperity for all.

Hana Creger is Environmental Equity Program Manager at The Greenlining Institute. She is lead author of the 2019 report “Autonomous Vehicle Heaven or Hell? Creating a Transportation Revolution that Benefits All.”

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.