Speaking up for equity

March 1, 2021

COVID-19 has revealed the huge economic and health disparities perpetuated by racism and inequitable systems. At Neighborhood House, we see these disparities firsthand. Critical information and access provided only in English and maybe Spanish, access available only online, and major donors of health care systems “cutting the line” to get the vaccine before their phase are just a few examples of how systems have failed Black, Brown, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), immigrants, and refugees.

Equitable access to unemployment benefits

Cece Heine, an NH Housing Stability Manager and vocal advocate for Marshallese and COFA Citizens, alerted us to the unique barriers faced by Compact of Free Association (COFA) nations citizens (from Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands, or Republic of Palau) whose special immigration status caused their unemployment payments to be delayed or denied even though they were eligible.

Cece, leaders in the COFA and Pacific Islander community, Neighborhood House, and many others advocated for months, attending multiple meetings, writing emails and letters to the Governor, State Legislators, and Members of Congress. This advocacy led to Employment Security Department (ESD) setting up a system to address these special circumstances and provide support with interpretation so COFA citizens could access the benefits they’ve earned.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Neighborhood House has been advocating for ESD to respond to the barriers caused by language, access to computers, changing rules, and confusing notices. Recently, we joined the Refugee Planning Committee to demand community participation in the selection of the next ESD commissioner.

Equitable vaccine distribution

Neighborhood House signed on with over 300 individuals and organizations to request the Governor and State Department of Health Director add multi-generational households caring for an elder to the early phases of vaccine distribution, recognizing the significant numbers of BIPOC elders that are cared for by younger generations. This advocacy was successful and continues with City Council and County Council adopting resolutions to commit to vaccine equity. Neighborhood House and other BIPOC serving organizations have gained early access to the mass vaccination site appointments and other community vaccine clinic appointments so that the low income, mostly limited English speaking, BIPOC elders could have access. Our efforts were highlighted in a recent national radio broadcast All Things Considered on NPR, in the Seattle Times, and Northwest Asian Weekly.

Although there’s been some success, the challenges and barriers continue – lack of vaccine supply, overloaded vaccination delivery systems (or lack of systems), lack of translated signage and interpretation at vaccination clinics are among some of the problems. We continue to scramble for access to vaccines for our clients, and will continue the work of equitable vaccine distribution.

Equitable access to compensation for early learning professionals

Women and people of color represent a significant portion of the early learning workforce. Racism, sexism, and decades of undervaluing the difficult, professional, and creative work of early learning providers have perpetuated the low wages and low reimbursement rates of ECEAP, child care, and Head Start. Recently, I testified in favor of the Fair Start for Kids Act, a bill that finally begins to address the lack of investment in our early learning systems, by proposing increasing rates for ECEAP and child care. While the Fair Start for Kids Act is the boldest statement affirming the value of early learning in years, it does not go far enough.

According to the National Head Start Association, “The ECE (Early Childhood Education) workforce is comprised almost exclusively of women, 40 percent of whom are people of color, which means there are intersectional biases at play. Confronting these biases and addressing pay equity in ECE is critical to building a strong, financially-stable workforce with less turnover. It will allow stronger bonds to form between teachers and children. It will allow early educators of color to make a liveable wage in the profession they love. Our children, our families, our communities, and our states will all benefit from this necessary focus on equity in the early childhood workforce.”

By Janice Deguchi, Executive Director