Erie County Legislature Chair April N. M. Baskin has introduced two major pieces of her “Pathway Forward” legislative program. The new laws, the Erie County Office of Health Equity Act and the Erie County Minority and Women Enterprise Equality and Modernization Act, address longstanding problems with Erie County’s outmoded MWBE standards and the disparity in health outcomes suffered by African Americans and other minority groups in Erie County.
“Since the spring of 2020, our nation has been confronted with an economic and health crisis caused by a once in a generation pandemic and a reckoning on the societal costs of systemic racism,” said Legislator Baskin. “These new local laws further my ‘Equity in Erie’ campaign to provide our community’s citizens with the resources they need to improve their lives and take steps to address longstanding barriers facing underserved communities.”
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared racism a serious public health threat earlier this year. Racism’s impact on public health is not limited to discrimination based on the color of a person’s skin, as it includes the structural barriers that have been constructed over years of segregation and inequitable investment of public dollars.
“Erie County is ranked in the bottom 25% of counties in New York State for health outcomes,” noted Kenyani Davis, Chief Medical Officer of the Community Health Center of Buffalo. “Within Erie County, there is a significant disparity between the health outcomes of White residents and residents of color. More than 50% of the minority population in Erie County die prematurely, whereas only 35% of the White population in Erie County die prematurely.”
The Erie County Office of Health Equity Act will create an Office of Health Equity (“OHE”) within the Erie County Department of Health and will also establish an Erie County Health Equity Advisory Board. The OHE will help ensure all minority and disadvantaged residents have equal access to preventive health care and to seek ways to promote health and prevent diseases and conditions that are prevalent among minority, marginalized, and disadvantaged populations.
“COVID-19 shed a light on the way that health crises can increase inequality in already vulnerable populations,” said Ekua Mends-Aidoo – Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer at Evergreen Health.
The Erie County Minority and Women Enterprise Equality and Modernization Act will consolidate the five local laws that currently govern contracting with minority and women business enterprises into one law, and strengthen minority and women owned business hiring by updating the goals to address current disparities. It also introduces a workforce hiring component to ensure workers on Erie County projects reflect the diversity of our population and implements real accountability for county contractors.
Current local law requires that Erie County maintain a goal of awarding 15% of the total cost of contracts for professional, technical, or other consultant services to minority business enterprises and 5% goal for women business enterprises.
The new MWBE legislation includes a new collective goal of 30% for MWBE contracts, which shall consist of 20% for MBE firms and 10% for WBE firms. Contractors awarded a contract by the county in a value of $100,000 for professional, technical, consultant or insurance services shall take action to create economic opportunity by utilizing MBEs and WBEs in all contracts with the County.
The law also requires county departments to prepare and implement an annual written MWBE Utilization Plan for the utilization goals for minority and women owned business.
The current Minority and Women Utilization Advisory Board (“MWUAB”), whose mission is to evaluate and review the adequacy of the County’s efforts on behalf of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises will be tasked with reviewing program administration and implementation of this law including handling of any administrative appeals for non-compliance sanctions and shall submit an annual report to the Erie County Legislature.
“The MWBE Modernization Act will help to provide a more equitable set of standards and allow small businesses to compete more effectively,” said Christian Johnson, CEO of Beautiful Brains, Inc. “I know from my own experience that small businesses have historically been at a disadvantage when bidding on county contracts. Chair Baskin has also gone above and beyond when it comes to accountability. Under the old system, it was easy for big businesses to apply for waivers, but this new legislation will ensure contractors make an intentional effort to meet the goals, and this will be incredibly beneficial to small business owners like myself.”