Equity framework could alleviate harmful budget impacts, commission says


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Equity and Empowerment Commission chair Jane Grover at a city meeting. The commission believes its proposed equity framework can help solve issues that arose from city-wide cuts due to Evanston’s projected $7.4 million deficit.

Alex Wong, Reporter

As resident concerns rise over department cuts in the 2019 proposed budget, the Equity and Empowerment Commission said their proposed equity framework could alleviate harmful impacts from budgeting decisions.

The framework would create a seven-step process by which aldermen and city staff would enact policies in an equitable manner. In the process, city staff would approach policy review by engaging with communities they believe would be most negatively impacted.

After gathering data from those communities, the city would develop equity goals for the policy.

“By the time City Council has reached the decision on the policy, they will understand the full impact of that decision instead of not recognizing the otherwise invisible interests of the people,” commission chair Jane Grover said at a Thursday meeting.

City-wide cuts meant to fix the city’s projected $7.4 million deficit in the 2019 budget have sparked concern among residents. Patricia Efiom, Evanston’s equity and empowerment coordinator, said many of those issues could’ve been avoided through the usage of the equity framework.

One preventable issue was the potential loss of state and federal funding for the Health and Human Services Department due to the proposed elimination of the communicable disease surveillance specialist, Efiom said.

The specialist is one of seven health department jobs that may be cut and is necessary for state recognition of the department. Efiom said council members didn’t realize the problem until after the budget was proposed.

“(After the budget was released), City Council members were scrambling to look for budget memos, asking, ‘We’re going to have to return something like $900,000 to the state?’” Efiom said. “I sit on the city staff, and it was only when I was interviewing the department directors that I found out what would happen. And again, that’s a place where our equity framework really would’ve helped uncover some of that.”

Efiom will provide an equity review of the budget proposal at the City Council budget hearing on Saturday. The review will look at the proposal with what Efiom calls an “equity lens” and will show how certain budget decisions created inequitable outcomes, she said.

The commission hopes to present its city-wide equity framework to the Human Services Committee on Dec. 3 so it can reach City Council for a vote on Dec. 10. Because the commission hasn’t begun reviewing drafts for four steps of the seven-step process, commission member Timothy Eberhart expressed doubts that the framework will be ready in time.

The commission also discussed its proposed budget of $70,250, which Efiom said is too small for the group’s goals. Because this will be the first time the commission has had a budget, Efiom hopes to increase the budget over time.

“The budget is not sufficient, but at least we have some resources,” Efiom said. “And the process is once we have that, we can fight for a small budget, and then once they see results we can fight for a larger budget.”

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