(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 410: One Year of the Infrastructure Bill
This week we’re joined once again by Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins and Helen Chin to talk about the one year anniversary of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. They chat about what they liked, the issue with capacity for applying for and implementing grants, transformative justice, and what states are actually doing well.
Below is a full unedited transcript of the episode:
Jeff Wood (1m 23s):
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins and Helen Chin. Welcome to the Talking Headways podcast. I should say welcome back to the Talking Headways podcast.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (1m 30s):
Hey Jeff, thank you. I’m so excited to be
Jeff Wood (1m 33s):
Back. I’m very excited to have you all back. Last time you were on, you had a good one-on-one conversation with each other about the infrastructure built and all those things. Our friend Tony Snyder at Politico who used to be actually my cohost on the show, had an article out the other day that shared a poll in which like 76% of voters didn’t even know that the infrastructure bill had passed. And so, you know, I know a lot of Republicans didn’t vote for it and were campaigning on it because they knew no one would really check them outside of a tweet that nobody would see. So I’m curious what your thoughts are on like how deep the infrastructure bill got into the consciousness of the United States and American voters.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (2m 7s):
So I definitely agree with Tanya. It’s research which is that many folks don’t actually know what we mean even when we’re talking about infrastructure and then the passage of it. That’s the other piece. I think we should also just put into context last year and all that was happening, we were still dealing with the pandemic. They had just passed the stimulus bill in the springtime and then literally last year around this time we were then passing the infrastructure bill. And so it’s just been a lot of different spending bills, a lot of different discussions. The infrastructure bill was originally part of the Build back better plan. It was like all these iterations of plans and visions that folks were like trying to figure out what is first and second and things got separated out, things got put back together.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (2m 53s):
So I could both see the confusion and also the lack of understanding in addition to the fact that we literally are, are now just coming out of our homes. So I’m not sure how much folks were really grounding themselves into all of the things that were happening last year at this time, even in this moment. The other thing that I would add is I think we are seeing this conversation as to like what’s up first, second, and third in part even amongst movement and advocacy groups, it’s just a lot of different very large spending bills that have real implications but not necessarily a full understanding of what it means both now and for the long term, which is a little scary actually.
Jeff Wood (3m 32s):
I’m really interested in this because it has been a year, but at the same time, because it has such a like a long runway in terms of how much funding there is and especially this bill and the Inflation reduction Act, there’s so much stuff in it and it takes so long for it to kind of roll out. I’m curious if you’ve seen anything come out of this, if you’ve seen any positive results from this or if you haven’t seen any results from this and you’re just waiting or are you frustrated with anything that’s happened so far?
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (3m 57s):
So I would say that I’m still deeply encouraged by the progress that has happened in many ways, at least at the administration level because congress didn’t necessarily put in mechanisms around or even performance measures around climate, around equity. Particularly for the infrastructure bill. What we have is an opportunity to actually build a lot of the things maybe with more of the values that we hope to see. And I think the administration has put out guidance immediately following the passage as to really centering those things that could help to transform our society for the better. We’ll see how that plays itself out depending on the final outcomes of the election. I think the other piece, even with the passage of the Inflation reduction Act is the reality is we are trying to tackle multiple things in real time and the combined resources made available means that we could do it in an intentional and comprehensive way if folks are intentional, otherwise it’s gonna be more of the same and actually create or cause even deeper harm that we’ve seen.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (4m 59s):
And I think that’s the biggest both challenge in this moment of folks not being aware of what’s happening and also the struggle of being able to really allow folks to understand the magnitude. And I think something that I said the last call that we had with you that I wanna emphasize on this call is that the magnitude of this funding is what I think people are missing. When we were bailing out the banks in 2009 with the American Recovery Act funding, we were talking about 800 billion with a B, that’s half the money that we’re talking about for the inflation reduction Act climate portion of the bill. But then when we think about the stimulus funding, the recovery funding that was offered, we were talking about 1.9 trillion and then the infrastructure bill is 1.2.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (5m 47s):
So we’ve got almost four times the amount of money that we spent over a decade ago and at that time they had six years. We have four years for this to all be spent down. So both the magnitude and the time span that folks have to make some real intentional decisions is really the biggest concern for me. And the importance of us being able to elevate why this matters.
Helen Chin (6m 11s):
What’s been interesting to me, and Stephanie and I were just reflecting the last couple of days around the anniversary of the infrastructure bill being passed, is that what you’re seeing at the local level is that folks are still trying to just navigate the covid dollars that they got through the American Rescue plan. Like the final tranche of those resources were allocated in mid-October and folks are still trying to figure out like what do I do with this? How do I use these dollars to address my immediate needs? And they don’t even have the bandwidth to really think about that this next wave of dollars is coming through with the build money. So I think folks are in a place where you know, they’re trying to play catch up and really connect to what the opportunities are.
Helen Chin (6m 59s):
And I think one of the things that’s most important, especially for folks like a Communities First or other intermediaries that are trying to help navigate in this space is just trying to give people the space of abundance to sit, think, and actually develop strategy to be able to connect to these dollars in a MO in a more meaningful way. The other thing that Stephanie brings up a lot is that during the American Rescue Plan arpa, what the administration was really intentional about is actually having a level of accountability for how those dollars were gonna be spent. So governors put forward like a plan, like you had to be intentional, like how are these dollars actually going to help those most impacted as it relates to covid?
Helen Chin (7m 44s):
And in that moment what you saw was I feel like a very intentional and thoughtful articulation around how we were gonna be equitable around the distribution of these dollars. And for me, I feel like that may be a gateway to thinking about then how we program for the infrastructure dollars. Because what we’re seeing is, as Stephanie mentioned, those dollars have hit the street with no guidance and we’re gonna have to be thoughtful because again this is over a trillion dollars that are gonna be spent. And the concern on one hand is that what we’re doing is just putting more money on top of what is an existing problem or existing bad infrastructure.
Helen Chin (8m 27s):
But if we could be thoughtful about this, it could be an opportunity to actually repair a lot of our infrastructure. It could be a way to think and transform our infrastructure so that it’s actually serving all communities. So that’s one of the things that brings me a little hope and joy at the end of the day. The proposition of that.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (8m 47s):
Yeah, the only thing that I wanna add specifically on the state and local recovery plans that were issued was that treasury. Treasury actually asked the question around how are you gonna ensure that your plans are implemented equitably? Like every state had to answer that question. And they also had to answer the question around how are you intentionally leading and supporting community engagement? And I think for me, going back through those responses on the interim reports that each state had to submit, you would be so surprised by places like Florida and Georgia and Iowa and Kansas and the ways in which governors showed up at a whole different level and being accountable to their residents and centering those who are most at need.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (9m 37s):
And so to me it showcases particularly because 90% of the infrastructure bill funding that got passed is gonna be implemented at the state and local level. There’s a great opportunity for us to have a different type of conversation around centering equity and centering those who are most at need. They did it already, literally like they had to submit a report that asked the question and they all put together, everyone had to respond, two did not, but the rest of the 48 did. And it’s in the spaces and places that you would never have expected. It was the states that I didn’t expect that had some really comprehensive strategies for how they were really censoring their communities.
Jeff Wood (10m 23s):
Well you both mentioned making sure that the money is spent wisely and equitably. And I think that we’re seeing right now some frustrations with some of the infrastructure money from the reconnecting communities program, which was supposed to have 20 billion, right? And then it got whittled down to I think about a billion maybe it got some extra money in the inflation reduction Act. But there’s a lot of state dots that are applying for kind of old remedies for the problems that, you know, highways that have split neighborhoods throughout history in the United States. And so instead of thinking about tearing down a highway in New Orleans, they’re thinking about just taking away the off ramps or in another place, I can’t remember exactly where it was, but there was an article in In Streets BOG the other day about how one of the states wanted to, you know, widen the underpass, just make it wider, don’t worry about there’s still gonna be a highway there.
Jeff Wood (11m 12s):
And there were some advocates who were very frustrated by this and they wanna see something transformational in something equitable. And it seems like if we allow state dots and others who, you know, their whole shtick is throughput and car orientation, if we see that go forward, it seems like you know, we’re gonna get business as usual, which is not what I think this bill was intended to do.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (11m 34s):
I completely agree that there’s a real opportunity for folks to continue the advance, the status quo, but there is also an opportunity to support transformative change. And you know, you gave a great highlight for the New Orleans Clayborn Expressway because I feel like that is the example that has been elevated through several presidential administrations really trying to solve for the challenges. There was a livability study, there was a tiger at the time funding for it to really think about the plans underneath the expressway and along it. And what we really honestly heard as someone who had been sitting with a lot of the work and the different studies and plans was that residents shortly after the expressway got built also started to put a plan as to how to deal with it in its current structure.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (12m 24s):
They recognized how much time it took for the project to actually get complete and the implications that it actually had on their communities. And I think no one would say that they wanna keep it in place, it’s aging, it’s time for it to come down in a lot of ways, but it’s more on the how and centering the who. And I think making sure that residents who live in that community who have been there really should be seen as the experts to help to inform the strategies for it. And the one thing that I will say about U S D O T and the intentionality that they put even in describing the nofa, was that you needed to have had some sort of community letter commitment, something you weren’t just coming to this application process by pulling something off the step and tip with no public engagement.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (13m 12s):
And I feel like typically that’s not how these, this process has worked, even for the newest discretionary programs, it is requiring some level of community engagement, some level of conversation and an intentionality from those who are eligible entities to really make the case for how they’ve done the level of outreach that’s required. And I think it’s hard because who, who speaks on behalf of community, what does that ultimately look like? Especially when you work at the most localized level, you know the challenges cuz you’ll have folks who believe it needs to be done one way or another. But I think ultimately finding both the balance and also the long term solutions and incorporating those pieces, I think is critical.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (13m 55s):
So I think it’s a long short way to say we will need to hold folks accountable and I think it starts with, you know, really those who are at the highest levels of power to influence how those decisions are being made and being able to hold folks accountable to wanting to see community voice be part of it. But it’s also gonna require the advocates to really call folks to task. So even going back to the conversation that we were having with governors, they went and did an amazing recovery plan and had to answer to treasury as to how they were spending the money equitably in center community. And to date, when we’ve done a scan of governors and their action on infrastructure, there are only a handful of states that have actually put or set any priorities around their infrastructure spending, like transportation, water, broadband, like all those pieces.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (14m 48s):
And it’s like how did you go from receiving money and you had water in it, you had housing, you had transportation and even greater flexibility guidance offered and you put in all the right things and then you get this infrastructure money and it’s just business as usual. So it does mean that we’re gonna have to hold folks accountable and say hey, you got this money, what’s the plans for it? And whether that’s at the legislative LE level, whether that’s folks going and having conversations asking for those executive orders that set priorities, I think there’s a full spectrum of things that folks can do in this moment.
Jeff Wood (15m 25s):
You know, if so many voters and folks don’t really know, you know what happened in the infrastructure bill, I’m wondering why, why then we couldn’t be more bold about what we put in it and why there was all this horse trading going on about this program and that program. And maybe it’s because it was passed by a small amount of Republicans as well that they didn’t attack it as much and so maybe that’s why it didn’t get as much attention. But you know there’s a lot of stuff that kind of got cut out and left on the floor that maybe if nobody was paying attention, maybe it should have been in there.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (15m 59s):
I couldn’t agree more. And I think this is a real place for advocates more specifically because I feel like folks felt like they had to negotiate, they had to just kind of go with the tide that was flowing in that moment and they accepted some really harmful aspects of the bill. And you know it’s interesting, some folks look at this infrastructure bill and say, well it’s a transportation bill with a couple of other projects added to it. And you could think about it that way, but no one lives single issue lives. So the fact that we can have a bill that is comprehensive, intentional and really trying to address multiple issue areas I think is a good direction for how maybe future congresses can think about how we invest in our long term infrastructure projects more broadly.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (16m 46s):
But I also hope that folks won’t settle for the path of least resistance. And you know, I recognize that it was the strongest bill possible while trying to tackle inflation and cut deficits and reduce healthcare costs. I mean we, especially for that inflation reduction act, it was like everything in the kitchen sink and it’s not enough. It’s not an all of above strategy doesn’t work if it’s still harmful for those who are most impacted. And if nothing else is taken away from this commentary, I think that is a very critical aspect and particularly for that inflation reduction Act bill, it was really sold to many folks as a climate bill when less than 2% actually centered those who are most impacted.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (17m 29s):
The majority of it were tax credits, which means you actually have to have money to buy the things and we’re in a moment where we’re saying that everything is too high and we can’t afford it. So it’s like who is ultimately really benefiting from these decisions that are being made and how do we hold our folks accountable, hold folks accountable at every level to ensure that we have something different for the outcomes. I hope that it offers us a space to dream, to build, to vision differently. And I wanna emphasize something that Helen said about this moment and kind of sitting in a space of abundance. I think for many advocates we’re often working from a deficit strategy.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (18m 11s):
We only have this much amount of time and we can only do but so much and you know, while the infrastructure build doesn’t solve all of our challenges, it definitely does make a good start to do something different and seed the possibilities for what we can build and grow together to do. And I really hope that advocates can really be in this space to think about how do they not advocate for more of the same Because in many ways we’re writing our history for this generation and the next and I’m hoping that we can feel proud of what we fought for together.
Helen Chin (18m 46s):
And as I think about the horse trading, as you said that went on, as we’ve seen in many administrations, there’s been an attempt to pass some sort of comprehensive infrastructure bill outside of a transportation bill. We don’t really have infrastructure at the federal level within Congress that like mandates around water that mandates really around housing. Transportation has been the only thing because of the reauthorization that we have every five years. So I think I’m going to apply a little bit of grace like meaning this was the opportunity to be able to do something that was more robust and this is what we got.
Helen Chin (19m 26s):
And for me a trillion is a lot of money. So I see the horse trading but I’m also gonna extend some grace in like this is their, like this is the first opportunity where I really saw horse trading and where it hurts my heart and where there’s a lot of disappointment has been around the inflation reduction act. I felt like a ton of concessions were made and the framing is, but this is the climate bill and we did well by it. It is not the climate bill as Stephanie mentioned, less than 2% is actually going to go to climate. And it was for me the status quo around negotiation where we gave 2% to address climate and to center those most impacted and give resources to them.
Helen Chin (20m 15s):
But threefold, we gave money to the extractive industries to be able to continue to do what they need to do. So while communities have the ability to address mitigation and resiliency and take one step forward, they’re gonna have to move five steps back because of the concessions that were made to extractive industry, like the energy industry to be able to play with tax credits, to be able to get resources in a different way. That for me is the thing that is problematic. And for me also, when you think about the breadth of these dollars coming down, whether it’s infrastructure or whether it’s the money out of the inflation reduction act, for me, the inflation reduction act actually potentially can harm what’s happening with the money that’s gonna move on the infrastructure money because it’s setting precedence of the status quo can continue to do what they want and we’re gonna resource them over here without really being intentional around like if the infrastructure bill was really intended from the president’s point of view to address what we need around climate, what we need to be able to build around our country.
Helen Chin (21m 24s):
The thing is, there are no frameworks around that and everyone is looking toward what has played itself out under the inflation reduction Act as potentially helping to set the tone. The two are at a disconnect and for me that horse trading set up a premise where it may be harder to actually put good practice in place because folks are gonna be putting their attention to like well this is a climate build, this is what it could mean. We can’t do that. We have to acknowledge that there was concessions that were made and then lean into then how do we make sure that their accountability mechanisms so that those dollars are actually moving in a way that get to our climate goals, get to our resiliency goals and get to supporting and building communities that have been harmed by past investments around infrastructure.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (22m 11s):
And I wanna offer some clarity because even when I describe the 2% what I’m saying is there was less than 2%, there were like some amazing programs that folks described that were gonna help, you know, communities of color, low-income communities, environmental justice communities, but the dollar amount, the actual investment, the grants that were actually not the tax credits but the grants that were actually gonna go to people, that is what I’m saying that we’re talking about was less than 2%. And I think it also the narrative, particularly around climate where it’s an individual action, it’s about reducing our carbon footprint that even that narrative came from the oil industry.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (22m 51s):
Like they coined it and it leaves little to no accountability to the actual industry doing right and that they could actually be held accountable for being able to not choose to have multiple sources of energy options. You know, like there’s no incentive for them to do something different. And I think there’s been so much emphasis on the individual and what they can do and particularly for those who are most impacted by climate, they actually are the ones who create the largest harm and the industries that have are now receiving incentives to hopefully do something different but they haven’t done that to date. And it feels so confusing sometimes because when you hear the ads on tv you’re like that’s great, they’re doing some amazing work.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (23m 35s):
And it’s like, yeah, no, there’s no accountability for them to do anything different. So I think if nothing else is taken away, that accountability piece I think is critical as part of this conversation.
Jeff Wood (23m 48s):
That’s so interesting. I take your point too about you know, a lot of the tax credits and things in there, if you don’t have money to buy a heat pump and then get the tax credit for it, then it’s hard to say that that’s benefiting the people that probably need it the most in the places that are probably overburdened by energy costs and things like that. So
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (24m 3s):
Especially when the messaging was that it’s about the inflation reduction that like people are saying that everything is too high in this moment, like that was the intent and then we just give tax credits where it’s like, but folks don’t have money right now to do those things. So it’s really those who have discretionary income that can get a tax credit on the back end after they’ve purchased the thing. It’s just,
Jeff Wood (24m 25s):
Yeah, you know last time you guys were on, you all had a good one on one conversation about the infrastructure bill, about Justice 40, about the Community First Infrastructure alliance and you know it’s just a revolution. There’s so much discussion going on about a number of those things, but I wonder if you all have any updates from the discussion you had last time?
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (24m 44s):
Yeah, the one thing that I will bring into this space is that I’m really excited by the partnership that’s happening at U S D O T epa, the Environmental Protection Agency, HUD U S D A, the Economic Development administration. Early on, as soon as the bill got passed we realized not only was there a lot of money, but there was also a lot of technical assistance dollars that were gonna be issued to help to support communities across the country. And as we talked about, folks barely understood that an infrastructure bill got passed nonetheless the resources that could be made available to them. And so we went to the feds and we had an honest conversation about could they coordinate And then past administrations there were inter-agency programs like the Sustainable Communities initiative and other things like that that were truly helpful and laid the foundation to a lot of the regional and community plans that we’ve seen over the last decade.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (25m 41s):
But the intentionality to coordinate the funds is one of the hardest things within the federal government this fall. One of the things that got announced was actually a thriving Communities initiative that was really going to help to coordinate each of the agencies, both the rolling out of resources and also the coordination and being able to connect their regional staff to communities on the ground in addition to technical assistance providers being made available. So particularly because the bills were so massive, the funding was so massive, how you navigate those pieces felt so massive. Originally we were like who’s gonna help to solve for that? And it was like the fed should, they’ve got, they’ve got folks all across the country who actually know their programs, know the work and know how things could potentially be done differently and they should be part of that solution.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (26m 33s):
So I’m definitely encouraged to see the transformation that’s happening even by the coordination of resources and taking in feedback. The other thing thing that was really powerful in addition to the Thriving Communities network was actually the rollout of many of the funding opportunities that were happening on the technical assistance side before they actually put out the grants and some of the technical assistance requests for funding, they had meetings with stakeholders ahead of time and they were like, what do you need? What doesn’t work? They, they had special calls just for local communities and for providers to say like why doesn’t it work typically for you to get this money?
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (27m 15s):
What could we do differently? And I feel like that’s a powerful systems change because most of the time it’s a few folks in a room trying to get it done as quickly as possible, but they don’t actually reach out to those who are gonna have to either implement it or receive it on the back end and then have to navigate the challenges of what that looks like. So that definitely is something that I feel deeply encouraged by and I’m hoping that it’s a practice that they can continue on and that folks at the state and local level could consider implementing as well.
Helen Chin (27m 44s):
And one of the things that for me, what I’ve been holding over this last year, like sort of lessons learned as we talked about all of those dollars being able to go out, the thing that you’re hearing time and time again is that folks are not ready to receive the money, absorb the money or even understand what the money is. And what I hold is a little bit to Stephanie’s point, like folks are not prepared, but I do feel like folks within the administration are really being reflective about that and the what they’ve learned over the covid relief dollars coming out. So if you are not prepared then how do we get you prepared?
Helen Chin (28m 26s):
So when we talk about a lot of those technical assistance programs, whether it’s been in U S D A or D O T or doe, a lot of those dollars are really centering what’s the technical assistance that’s necessary for communities for cities to be ready to be able to absorb money and then be able to implement and ideate on those dollars. And I think that’s actually, like Stephanie said, it like that is a great trend. But the thing that I think is necessary for us to hold lessons learned over the last year is that a lot of places aren’t ready. So we can aspirationally say there’s a lot of money for infrastructure, but the capacity that is necessary and the bench that’s necessary to be able to move on that isn’t there.
Helen Chin (29m 13s):
So being able to connect with some of these TA dollars, I think that might be a way to be able to address this for many of these folks.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (29m 20s):
Why does this matter? Is the question that I ultimately was hoping that we could answer and it’s because it takes a moment for a president to sign a bill but it takes years in really decades to undo the harm that it creates. So when I think about the all above strategy around the energy portion of the inflation reduction act, and when I think about the lack of true accountability to state dots to center and do a level of community engagement processes while the bill may be signed and there’s full celebrations for ribbon cuttings if we don’t actually pay attention and at the front end hold those who are in the decision making powers, whether it’s the governors, whether it’s the state dots accountable for the funding that are our taxpayer dollars that are gonna roll back into our states and into our communities without a full plan.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (30m 18s):
Like we have to wake up to this because it’s gonna take so much longer to stop these projects. So if we can get ahead of it and help to shape and inform those agendas, then I think it could be a great opportunity. And I just wanna give some examples, like in Arkansas they, they literally put together an advisory committee when they were thinking about the recovery funding for Covid and they were the ones who were helping to advise the strategy and IT centered community leaders as part of that in California, they’ve got a whole task force thinking about this work and you know, I, I know that those are two different extremes but it also shows the possibilities when you actually take a moment and say we’re gonna put some guiding prints of bulls around these dollars that are coming through so that we don’t continue to create new harm, particularly to communities who have been most impacted by past investment.
Helen Chin (31m 17s):
Stephanie, those are some good points that you make around how in this moment we have to really think about how we repair how the past systems have actually done harm but with so much money on the table, how do we actually use this moment to think about transforming the current system in order to serve people better?
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (31m 36s):
Yeah and thank you for your question. One of the things that I’ve been thinking about is really around how do we transform the system, right? And what does transformative justice look like as a framework related to public infrastructure more specifically where we’re actually addressing past harm and also building for the future in mind. And I think before I even answer that question, I think one of the things that I often have to sit with is like who gets to determine what justice actually means? And I think you’ve said a lot oftentimes around both the who and the how, who’s most impacted and how do we address those past harms so that we can then build in a more intentional way and also understanding the why.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (32m 17s):
And so for me, I feel like particularly the past few years it’s been a defining era in many ways with the emergence of both new funding, new challenges, but also new terms particularly around the evolution of social change. We’ve gone from equality to equity, justice has now emerged in everything. You know Jeff, I was going back through past blogs and you’ve done everything from like mobility justice to transportation justice and I’m gonna add transformative justice here because I think it’s important for us to really think about what we’re trying to center in these conversations And you know, I’ve gotta actually give some credit to the center for story based strategies because they often do the box where folks are standing on the box and there’s a fence and then they added the fourth box which was really about how do we get to a space of liberation where folks are in a space where they’re empowered to vision and pursue the outcomes that they see for themselves.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (33m 17s):
And I’m not sure that we’re there just yet, but I am hoping that we can. But I do think that it’s important for us to even just get an understanding of some of these terms that we often throw out. So you know, when we talk about this notion of equity, because I think that’s something that this president has been very intentional about, about racial equity, the whole of government approach for tackling past harm but also addressing and tackling climate change. I think it’s important for us to separate out some of those terms and then also think about where we need to be evolving to in many ways. And that who Helen that I think that you often talk about is that framing around the distributive either equity, I’m gonna really think about it from a justice space of who is most harmed and how do we address it.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (34m 4s):
You know there’s this whole piece around like procedural justice, like the process, right? So I think Jeff, when you ask the question about New Orleans and what was happening and like how do we make sure that we’re centering communities who have been most harmed, you know, in these solutions and like make sure that their voice is heard. Like that is really a procedural piece of determining like how fairly are people treated in this process and what do we put in place to ensure that they are represented, that their voice is part of and centered into those pieces. And then I think where the line starts to delineate between the justice framework and the equity framework is like really the structural pieces when we start to talk about equity for justice, what you often get in addition to repairing past harm, you have a whole body of folks who are also talking about like what restorative justice looks like and that’s like that relational work that needs to happen.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (34m 57s):
It’s really hard to do work in communities at time because they don’t trust the government. Some advocates may not trust themselves as part of that conversation. And so what does that look like to have a space where folks can actually build intentionally collaboratively. And because the commitment is to really address those who have been most impacted and the harm created, there’s a reentering and an acknowledgement that hey we didn’t get this right. We may be experts in a lot of ways but we know that there are other ways that we can think about it and bring a level of humility to the work. And then for me, I think where the restorative justice work and the transformative justice really comes to is that that restorative justice is at that individual or community level where it’s an individual or or a government that has done harm.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (35m 47s):
But the transformative justice is saying hey, we’re gonna actually allow for the system that was the origin of the harm. It’s really thinking about the collective like dots across this country, the US Department of Transportation, really thinking about how do we address past harm and really transform the system to center those who have been most impacted. And I have to bring in a good book cuz I know Jeff, you love to reference some good reads. And so there’s a great book that says we do this until we are free by Miriam Kaba. And one of the things that she has in it that I’ve been sitting with is that a system that never addresses the why behind the harm never actually contains the harm itself.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (36m 29s):
And let me say that again. A system that never addresses the why behind the harm will never actually contain the harm itself. Meaning that it will continue to do harm unless you actually address the why it actually harms people in this moment. And I don’t know that we do the work to investigate the why. We are seeing all of the issues that are playing itself out with air pollution or tailpipe pollution that happens in communities like we know at the highest levels. But I don’t know that we’ve also solved for a different type of solution and we actually haven’t had the space to reimagine in a, in an intentional way because we haven’t been in relationship with each other.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (37m 10s):
We haven’t actually created and fostered the spaces for us to have that type of conversation. So I’ve really been really thinking about kind of three pillars just to sum this up, to really thinking about and centering the why, listening to those and understanding those who have been most harmed and understanding the root cause, the why behind it, really building the capacity of support to actually intervene and address those past harms so that we don’t continue to build more of the same. And I think ultimately, you know, through the intentional work of acknowledging and then addressing those harms, we will actually have a better infrastructure outcome where we can all thrive.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (37m 51s):
And I think that’s the piece that sometimes gets hard, particularly when we talk about justice because people have what, what is actually termed as the retribution justice in their minds. That’s the like you know, there’s punishment because you’ve done this and I don’t know if community can hold government accountable for the punishments. We can barely hold the fossil fuel companies to that level. But I do think that if we can also push to a new way to say hey let’s actually address these pieces and put the resources behind it and intentionally center those who have been most harmed to also be part of the solution, we will get different outcomes. And I do feel confident about that.
Helen Chin (38m 28s):
And for us, as we think about what’s next for the work for communities first, a lot of what we’re thinking about is like how can we be able to support space where we are seeing transformative justice leadership actually rise to the top and be the ones holding and moving this forward. And to that end, one of the things that we’re doing at Communities First is launching restorative justice leadership cohort with public sector practitioners who work in transportation, housing, water and other infrastructure. The idea is for them to actually begin to do some cross-sectoral learning. I think that is one of the things that will be key. As Stephanie mentioned earlier, communities don’t live single issue lives, but the way that the system is set up is that we look at those issues individualistically and not think about like how they’re actually braided together to be able to impact a community or to support a community.
Helen Chin (39m 24s):
So the first thing is making sure that this cohort is working in an intersectional way to think about those issues and then giving them space to be able to learn from one another, to be in group discussions and then also to think about when we talk about the systems of governance, like how that then plays itself out in a different way. That’s one side of it. And then the other piece that we will continue to do is think about how do we actually elevate the work to reimagine a different future at the community level. So communities have been radically re-imagining all over the place. Stephanie teases me all the time, as does many of our movement advocates of like the we gotta plan Helen, the plan’s on the shelf.
Helen Chin (40m 7s):
The problem is not that we haven’t radically imagined, it’s that we’ve never been given space to actually ideate on that. So a lot of what we will be doing the next year is really thinking about like how do we elevate existing body of work that you’re seeing in frontline communities so that they get integrated into the public planning process and that there are incentives for this to happen. Because now what happens is cities do master planning and a lot of times those most impacted communities, they are put upon by that master planning. They’re never asked to co-create that process. So we are defining ways where we can integrate the work that folks have been doing underground with those planning processes.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (40m 51s):
And I wanna add that in addition to the space, it’s the resources to do the work. And so to the extent that those who are gonna have access to these federal fundings, these state and local resources are really thinking about how they fund community and their time and making sure that they can be part of the process. I think that’s another emerging practice that we are going to be helping to nurture and cultivate over the next year. The only other piece that I didn’t get a chance to mention is actually a reflection a little bit on this governor’s race. I think that there was a lot talked about and it’s still being monitored related to Congress and what it means for the Senate and the House. But the thing that I’ve been most watching is the, the governor’s races, 36 governors were up for election this cycle.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (41m 38s):
The majority of them running for reelection eight governors, you know, chose not to. So that was really where the seats were up. And there’s still some decisions for who are the final choices, but these were the governors who were in power and you know, I think that’s the space that I’m really thinking about because they now are into their second term. Many of them are gonna be term limited. The majority of them now have an opportunity to really like ferment their legacy as leaders who managed and implemented through great crisis, but also the greatest opportunity to build a better future for both our country and their residents. And so I’m really just excited because I think that the folks really wanna be intentional about the work.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (42m 23s):
We could really see the change that we need happening at that state and local level by the governors who have been now elected. And as I shared, you know, many of them showed us that they can do this work to center those who are most impacted and do the level of community engagement that’s needed that really moves towards a transformative justice outcome.
Jeff Wood (42m 43s):
That’s really interesting and and important. I actually mentioned this this morning, my newsletter specifically kind of some of the races that maybe some folks were kind of paying attention to, which is the governors, right? Everybody’s paying attention to the senate in the house and all that stuff. But you know in Massachusetts you have a new democratic governor who is likely to focus more on transportation. You have in Oregon a democratic governor who is likely not to turn back some of the reforms that have been created in the last few months in terms of parking reform and those types of things. You have a new governor in Maryland where the old governor did some horrible things. You know, cutting the red line was one of the most egregious things that I, I can remember in terms of transportation policy, something that was gonna help a lot of communities.
Helen Chin (43m 22s):
And don’t forget Maryland also the rain tax.
Jeff Wood (43m 24s):
Rain tax as well. Yeah, stuff like that in New York. I mean the governors in control, the mta and so I know these are transportation specific examples, but I think that if you look only to the federal level, you do so at your own peril.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (43m 37s):
Helen Chin (43m 38s):
One of the things for me is that much of the folks within our community is specifically the climate community, are really excited about the Inflation Reduction Act. And the thing that I hold is that that is really looking at some of the mitigation pieces of it. But in order for us to have the most significant bang for the buck on the climate side, that infrastructure bill actually is the place that has the most teeth because they are putting a significant amount of resources, half of it is going to the Department of Transportation and the Department of the Transportation in reality because of land use, because of transportation policy, because of fuel, are actually holding a lot of what we would be solving for on the climate side.
Helen Chin (44m 25s):
So there’s a real opportunity to really leisurely focus, especially folks within the climate community of like the how do we make sure that we’re elevating climate in that transportation work because that’s where we’re gonna get the most bang for the buck. It’s not the ira, IRA is is really on the mitigation side. It’s not thinking about the mitigation, the adaptation and the resiliency and the way that we could do with the build money.
Jeff Wood (44m 51s):
And that’s interesting too cause I, I actually asked Congressman Blumenau last week at Revolution this question about, you know, some of the guidance that folks like you know, Stephanie Pollock have put out related to measuring greenhouse gas emissions in state spending and the pushback that they’ve been getting from some of the folks on the other side of the aisle. And I think that’s really an interesting point about trying to make sure that, you know, our land use and transportation decisions are huge climate impacts because of the amount of emissions that come from the transportation sector, specifically personal passenger vehicles. And I think that that doesn’t necessarily get enough play when you’re talking about climate in the inflation reduction act, you have a lot of tax credits and things for solar and for wind and, and other, you know, kind of generation, you know, infrastructure.
Jeff Wood (45m 34s):
But the stuff that seems to matter a lot is, you know, housing and the transportation and feels like that sector over there. The energy sector seems to be starting to move, but the transportation sector seems stuck. And I think part of that is because there hasn’t been enough intentionality about focusing on climate in that space. And I think part of that is from the state D O T perspective, they are kind of an autopilot. They have been doing the same thing for such a long time that to be told you need to measure greenhouse gas emissions is to them a egregious injustice. And that’s frustrating I think for a lot of us who see the transportation as and the, you know, the related land use as the way to drive down vmt, which in turn could drive down emissions.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (46m 17s):
And I think the solution that everybody is rallying around, even in this moment around transportation is like EV infrastructure and it’s like, that’s great, but that’s actually not gonna get us to where we need to go to even if we had everyone by themselves, you know, whatever the next electric vehicle needs to be. I think being able to be clear that we do have to invest in more transit and we need to make sure that we are thinking about the housing options around, you know, communities and what’s being built out. Like those pieces are also the pieces that are missing. And I’m encouraged because one of the things that was in the last appropriations funding that was released early this year was that Thriving Communities program that brought D O T and HUD together to start to think about land use that like we haven’t seen that before.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (47m 8s):
So there is an incentive that’s happening even right now to have that conversation. But that was a 30 million program and 30 million sounds like a lot of money, but not when we’re talking about trillions in this moment and what could be really invested in communities.
Helen Chin (47m 22s):
And when we see the trend of where people are migrating toward those places are not overdeveloped. And as we’re thinking about development rather than like let’s think about the triangle district in North Carolina. If we were conscious 10 years, 15 years ago, what we would be doing is thinking about how to do more thoughtful planning so that it was more compact. Now it’s gonna be harder to unravel, but places like North Carolina, you’re seeing people moving also to the Midwest. Like there’s an opportunity now to get ahead of that and thinking about like how we plan for those cities in a way that they’re more walkable and we’re addressing vmt.
Helen Chin (48m 7s):
But the the entry point always is, oh, development’s happening. I’m gonna build roads and then I’m gonna put where people live at the end of that highway. Like we could be re-imagining as we think about the trends on where people are moving to get ahead of that. I think
Jeff Wood (48m 23s):
Where can folks find you if they want to find out more information about what you’re doing?
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (48m 28s):
Helen Chin (48m 30s):
Helen Chin, communities first.us
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (48m 34s):
And I think I’m on Twitter, it’s at simply SJ g
Jeff Wood (48m 38s):
If it still exists by the end of the week,
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins (48m 40s):
Jeff Wood (48m 41s):
We’ll see. Well Helen and, and Stephanie, thanks for joining us. We really appreciate your time.
Helen Chin (48m 46s):
Thank you for inviting us back. Thanks