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Supporting Communities on the Frontline of the Pandemic

We have long known that climate change impacts communities of color and low-income communities first and worst—and now these communities are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 public health crisis. Neighborhoods that are home to millions of people of color are also home to dirty power plants and heavily trafficked by fossil-fueled cars and trucks emitting pollutants into the air, triggering health problems such as asthma that put them at greater risk for ailments that attack the lungs, such as COVID-19. 

These same frontline communities are suffering disproportionately during this pandemic, losing jobs and income at a higher rate than others or having to put themselves and their families at risk as they continue to work in frontline jobs in transportation, healthcare, agriculture, and food industries. Fewer than 20 percent of African American and Latino workers have the luxury of working from home, exposing them to a greater risk of contracting the virus. The Navajo Nation has a per capita infection rate 10 times higher than Arizona and the third-highest infection rate in the country.

Energy Foundation grantees and allies are working hard to provide critical services during this crisis—grantees like Inquilinxs Unidxs, which is running a Cancel Rent campaign in Minnesota and provides guidance and support to others in the community who are having trouble paying rent. The Chicago Frontline Emergency Response Fund—led by Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) to support Chicago environmental justice groups through the crisis—is providing support to address the health care needs, loss of income, and other urgent needs facing environmental justice group staff members and community leaders. Illinois Citizens Utility Board has produced a guide to benefits that utilities and telecom/internet/cable providers are offering customers during the COVID-19 crisis. Energy Efficiency For All (EEFA) partners are compiling state/city actions on gas shut-offs, rent forgiveness, and other measures, while also suggesting advocacy steps to make even further progress. EEFA also developed a pandemic response guide to help protect under-resourced communities.

Equity and environmental justice grantees play a critical role protecting their communities by supporting self-determination and mobilizing resources. Energy Foundation and many of our funding partners are revising funding strategies in light of the pandemic and increasing our focus on equity as we work with the field to revise strategies. This will lay important groundwork for a recovery where our historically under-resourced frontline constituents can benefit from a clean energy future. Further, we are working with program staff to ensure we support grantees by staying connected, encouraging direct and inclusive participation by frontline leaders in the development of policies and stimulus packages, resourcing these groups to lead on strategy, and providing flexible grant and technology solutions. 

Our priority is to advocate for a better future—one that will improve outcomes with cleaner air, water, and access to clean energy, and a healthier, stronger future for all.