United Parents & Students will hold their next annual assembly this weekend, where leaders will push their Community Investment Platform as a step to reduce poverty in communities served by Green Dot Public Schools.
The assembly, the ninth since the community organization was founded in 2014, will be the first one to be held with parents, government officials and community leaders since the COVID-19 pandemic hit worldwide in Spring of 2020. The event will be held at the Los Angeles Trade Technical College, where organizers expect 500 attendees.
“Last year was a very small luncheon for our leaders outdoors but it wasn’t really the assembly that we normally have. This year we are excited,” said Larry Fondation, UPAS executive director. “We are not going for a huge number of 1,000 which is what we regularly do, but we will have 500 people. We have a great facility at Los Angeles Trade Tech, right in the heart of the areas that we serve and organize in, with a brand new building, so we can assure people that it is a safe facility.”
Fondation detailed the Community Investment Platform, which would encourage government and private businesses to invest in Guaranteed Basic Income, Food Justice, Public Safety, Digital Equity and NARCAN School Safety Overdose protection.
The Guaranteed Basic Income initiative would have a cap of $500 million, to be divided equally between the City and County of Los Angeles. A pilot program was established in 2021 by the City of Los Angeles, where 3,200 participants were guaranteed $1,000 monthly income for 12 months.
“I think the combined city-county experiments this year were somewhere around $70 million of Guaranteed Basic Income, the biggest avenue to decrease poverty,” explained Fondation. “We have a real opportunity here in a city where the mayor is changing. I think Karen Bass would support it, I think candidate Rick Caruso would support it, he’s a businessman and he knows he has to put money in people’s pockets.”
The assembly will be held days after citywide and congressional midterm elections, and Fondation hopes the new mayor will attend the assembly, alongside other city and county leaders. He said the other alternative to this program would be raising the minimum wage to $25 an hour, something that will be very difficult to achieve in the short term.
“Another way is to raise the minimum wage, which should be at $25 to be at the same level as minimum wage buying power that it was in 1968,” said Fondation.
Another key point in the platform will be the Food Justice Initiative, where the community based organization hopes to push for an investment of $51 million. Food Justice was a key part of UPAS during the height of the pandemic, where it was able, along with the American Heart Association, to convince the County Board of Supervisors to allocate $35 million to low income residents of the city to buy food.
“We did what UPAS is good at. We put pressure on the Board of Supervisors, which rightly under the leadership of Hilda Solis, allocated $30 million in grocery vouchers, cash money, like Guaranteed Basic Income, so people could feed their families. It gave people cash to feed their families,” added Fondation.
UPAS will help organize communities to pressure the Board of Supervisors to encourage community development in such a way that supermarkets are more accessible to the residents. During the pandemic, many supermarkets closed and forced people to travel farther to get their groceries. In fact, many families rely on public transportation and this investment would help private businesses open stores so that communities can buy their groceries closer to home.
“One of the things of the Food Justice Initiative is that we ask the Supervisors to invest in community development, financial institutions, or other intermediaries that can go in and say how we work with the supermarket chains. Let’s have a quid pro quo with the city if we have a CFDI, then if the supermarket wants a $2 million dollar subsidy for land acquisition of sewer construction loan, they have to give back to the communities” explained Fondation.
Another key part of the platform, according to the UPAS executive director, would be a Digital Equity program so low-income communities would be able to access the Internet. Fondation says that private companies don’t offer services to all areas and proposed that they be forced to do so. UPAS could also explore the possibility that the city and/or the county develop the concept of municipal internet.
“I think there are several avenues. One is to put pressure on all these providers that have contracts with the city and the county. When you get monopolistic rights, you should be required to serve areas like Watts and Compton,” said Fondation. “The other idea is what San Jose has done with municipal internet… let’s get the city and the county to partner and build it themselves and have free internet for the City of Los Angeles, or the entire county.
Fondation believes that funds approved by Congress for infrastructure could be used for this, where UPAS proposes a $10 million investment. He doesn’t expect the highest speed access, but it could be enough so residents can access email, public services, Tele Health services and students could do homework.
A new public health initiative proposed by UPAS is that the Health Department provide NARCAN kits to schools in such a way that the recent tragedy at Bernstein High School, where five students overdosed on Fentanyl will not happen again. At present, schools have one NARCAN kit, which contains two doses.
“We really want to go to the Health Department, which has been great during the pandemic, to step up and ensure all schools have ample Narcan kits, because right now LAUSD says they have one kit per school, but this is five kids in one school,” said Fondation. “How would you choose if you are a teacher or staff , and you have five kids that have passed out, you know they overdose, and you have one kit, where there are two doses. So you have five kids, and you pick two? The schools have to play God.”
According to the proposed platform, a $31 million investment would be needed to assure that all schools across the Los Angeles Unified School District are ready to face a similar situation.
The UPAS platform rounds up with a push for an investment of $10 dollars in public safety, to be invested in neighborhoods so residents of the communities will feel safe and secure.
Fondation reinforced the need for communities to organize and help push this initiative, which he says is ambitious but not unreal. A total investment of close to $600 million would be needed to achieve all of the proposals.
“If ordinary people don’t organize and take responsibility for demanding what they need, then the lack of accountability, the arrogance that comes forward when elected officials are in charge, they are going to do what they are pressured to do. We are saying these are aspirational goals, but they are not unrealistic either,” concluded Fondation.