In 2019, grassroots organizers and low-income families made policy progress in cities and states on various topics, including raising wages, protecting renters, reforming criminal justice systems and advancing LGBTQ+ rights.
If you’re looking for signs of hope heading into 2020, you’ll find plenty in local communities around the country. In 2019, families won policy changes on everything from minimum wages and renters’ protections to criminal justice and LGBTQ+ rights.
In a year when Congress and the White House often seemed hopelessly deadlocked, cities, counties and states were laboratories of progress.
We looked back at the year and came up with a list of 10 policy wins that exemplify what can happen when families, grantee organizations and policymakers work together. These wins show how local communities made progress on issues that mattered for low-income families.
Few issues are more important to low-income families than earning a fair and living wage, and campaigns to raise state minimum wages gained momentum in 2019.
In New Mexico, for example, policymakers agreed to raise the state minimum wage to $9 an hour in 2020 and to $12 in 2023. (The plan will not eliminate lower wages for workers who receive tips.)
Illinois also will eventually raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour, increasing incomes for an estimated 1.4 million residents.
California created its first ever Lesbian, Bisexual, and Queer Women’s Health Equity Fund to support LGBTQ+ health services, The San Diego LGBT Community Center, one of the groups that advocated for the new fund, reported. The state set aside an initial $17.5 million for the work, according to The Center. State legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom enacted the Lesbian Health Initiative as part of the 2019-20 budget, creating a program within the state’s Department of Health.
Criminal Justice Reform
States and cities remained at the front of criminal justice reform in 2019.
In June, Louisiana agreed to stop the practice of suspending driver’s licenses of people because they can’t afford to pay criminal fines and fees. The practice kept thousands of residents “trapped in cycles of criminalization and poverty,” according to the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice (PCEJ).
“The fines and fees structure in Louisiana, which we use to fund our court systems, primarily on the backs of those who can least afford it, needs a lot of reform,” Ashley Shelton, PCEJ’s executive director, said in a statement.
In Arkansas, the state Legislature enacted a plan to reduce both the number of young people sent to juvenile correctional facilities and the time they spend there, the Arkansas Public Policy Panel reported. The Panel and Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families were among the organizations that worked for the reforms.
After years of work by grassroots organizations, including Parent Voices, Newsom proposed a sweeping investment in California’s early-education systems. By June, the new governor and state legislature enacted a plan that included expanding access to pre-kindergarten, child care and home visiting, while also improving facilities and training for child-care providers. It also expanded paid family leave.
In California, the Jurupa Valley City Council voted to get commercial trucks off its neighborhood streets, in particular near Mira Loma Village. The plan will redirect trucks to cut down on diesel pollution in the region, which has some of the most polluted air in California. It is the latest effort to reduce pollution from heavy truck traffic generated by e-commerce and warehouse industries centered in Los Angeles and the Inland Empire.
In a move away from fossil fuels and toward addressing climate change, the coal-based Navajo Generating Station and Kayenta Mine in Arizona closed in 2019. It was part of a historic move by the Navajo Nation to sever its ties to coal and invest “in more sustainable sources of revenue and renewable energy,” Grist reported.
Tenant organizing in California resulted in state legislators agreeing to limit how much landlords can raise rents in older buildings – 15 years or older – to 5 percent plus inflation and capped at 10 percent annually.
The action was on top of Los Angeles County’s approval of rent control for more than 400,000 renters in the region – the largest expansion in 40 years in the state – and new funding for eviction defense.
The decennial census kicks off in 2020 and there is a lot at stake – hundreds of billions of federal dollars. A flawed or underreported census could jeopardize how political districts are drawn as well as funding for the country’s vulnerable populations.
In preparation, grassroots leaders and organizations have been working to make sure everyone is counted.
In Alabama, for example, Voices for Alabama’s Children helped secure a $1 million fund for outreach focused on populations that are hard to reach.
Across the country, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) worked to win $113 million in the California state budget for community education tied to the 2020 Census.
Paul Nyhan is the storytelling and partnership manager at Marguerite Casey Foundation. Equal Voice is Marguerite Casey Foundation’s publication featuring stories of America’s families creating social change. With Equal Voice, we challenge how people think and talk about poverty in America. All original and contracted Equal Voice content can be reproduced for free, as long as proper credit and a link to our homepage are included. Photographs from The Associated Press are copyright protected.