by Marilyn Rubin
Government actions have the potential to make a substantial and lasting impact on equity for all residents. One of government’s most powerful levers for advancing equity is its budget, “the medium through which [flows] the essential life of support systems of public policy” (Wildavsky & Caiden 2001, p. xxvii). Advancing equity has rarely been at the heart of these support systems or of government budgets, themselves. However, since the growing focus on racial equity catalyzed by the Black Lives Matter movement, and the COVID-19 pandemic that increased already wide disparities across individuals and communities, there has been increasing recognition of the importance of budgets in government’s efforts to advance equity.
Signs of the growing use of the budget as a tool to promote equity — particularly racial equity — include President Biden’s executive order calling for the federal government to “allocate resources to address the historic failure to invest sufficiently, justly, and equally in underserved communities, as well as individuals from those communities” (Biden, 2021), and initiatives by many state and local governments to ameliorate inequities in access to wealth and opportunity. State and local budget initiatives are the focus of this project. Because these efforts are emergent, this report does not attempt to provide a comprehensive or representative profile of city and state efforts to use their budgets to advance equity. Rather, it provides illustrations of how state and local governments in the United States are using their budgets to advance equity for people of color and other under-represented groups. The focus here is on what the states have been doing.
Given the devastating impact of COVID-19, it is not surprising that many state initiatives to advance equity are related to health. Some examples are presented below. Other areas where states are addressing equity include employment, economic development, broadband, families and children, and education.
The state’s Department of Health and Social Services developed a strategic plan to begin in 2022 to promote equity among state residents, with a guiding principle, “Ensure that all Alaskans have full and equal access to opportunities to lead healthy lives.” The plan defines “equitable” as “everyone has fair and just opportunities to be as healthy as possible” (Alaska Division of Public Health, 2021).
In 2021, the Connecticut Legislature declared racism a public health crisis and established a 28-member commission with the charge to “enable the state’s Department of Public Health to be more responsive to people of color” (Udoma, 2021).
The vision of the state’s Office of Health Equity in the Department of Health is that “Every Hawaii resident will have the same health access, opportunities, and protections as everybody else and services will be provided with aloha and the upmost respect for diversity” (Hawaii Office of Health Equity, 2022).
Wyoming created the Office of Performance Improvement and Health Equity to “…actively use data and equity principles to “…deliver and improve the public’s health” (Wyoming Department of Health, 2022).
This project situates initiatives taken by the State of New Jersey within the broader movement by state and local governments in the U.S. to use their budgets to advance equity, especially for those in historically underserved communities. Illustrative of what New Jersey has done to advance equity in health through the expenditure side of the budget is the “Cover all Kids” initiative whose objective is to ensure that more children receive access to quality health care coverage. Other proactive steps that New Jersey has taken to advance equity through its budget include establishing the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging in the Office of the Governor, and creating the Black and Latinx Seed Fund to address systemic racial inequities in access to capital for Black and Brown entrepreneurs.
Alaska Department of Education and Early Development. 2021. Alaska’s Education Challenge. https://education.alaska.gov/akedchallenge
Biden, Joseph R. 2021. Executive Order On: Advancing Racial Equity and Support for
Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government. The White House: Executive Order 13985, 86 FR 7009-7013. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/20/executive-order-advancing-racial-equity-and-support-for-underserved-communities-through-the-federal-government/.
Hawaii Office of Health Equity. 2021. OHE Home. State of Hawaii, Department of Health Office of Health Equity. Accessed March 8, 2022 at: https://health.hawaii.gov/healthequity/
Udoma, Ebong. 2021. Racial equity panel on public health holds its first meeting. Connecticut Public Broadcasting. https://www.ctpublic.org/news/2021-11-18/connecticut-racial-equity-panel-on-public-health-holds-its-first-meeting
Wyoming Department of Health, Office of Performance Improvement and Health Equity https://health.wyo.gov/publichealth/office-of-performance-improvement-and-health-equity/
Wildavsky A. & Caiden, N.J. 2001. The New Politics of the Budget Process (4th ed.). New York: Longman