Michigan Municipal League Review Magazine September/October 2023

The city uses a point system in providing grants to community groups and others in which applicants receive extra points for equity. And The Empower Program, administered through the city’s economic development corporation, provides technical support to small businesses owned by Black, indigenous, or people of color, known as BIPOCs. “We want to ensure we are doing things from an equity standpoint,” Schor said. Washtenaw County Washtenaw County, for example, implemented an equity policy in 2018 and established an equity office that will “ultimately make the county an equitable place to live and work for all residents.” Last year, the county committed $8 million to a new Community Priority Fund that provides food assistance, job training, eviction protections, and other services in lower-income, high-minority population areas of the county. The money comes from the county’s share of the federal American Rescue Plan Act. MI Department of Human Civil Rights Other local governments in the state also are using an equity lens in budgeting and infrastructure projects, although experts say they’re unsure of how many municipalities are doing so. Alfredo Hernandez, equity officer at the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, said the department is working on tracking the number of municipalities and counties engaged in budgeting for equity and those that have established equity offices.

Experts say it’s critical that governments implement DEI so that they can more effectively imbed equity in budget appropriations.

Budgeting for equity dovetails with local governments’ widespread internal diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. Experts say it’s critical that governments implement DEI so that they can more effectively imbed equity in budget appropriations. Local officials “have to understand what it all means,” Hernandez said. “Cultural competency isn’t something we’re born with. It’s a skill that has to be developed.” Hernandez’s department offers local governments a racial equity toolkit that provides a roadmap for communities to create equitable policies and practices. Local leaders acknowledge it will likely take years for the recent focus on equity to reverse decades of government actions that exacerbated racial and economic inequities. “I think it’s always a work in process,” Grand Rapids City Manager Washington said. “There’s a lot of division in the state and country about whether (DEI) is needed. “But I think we are meeting the expectations of policymakers. A majority of our citizens appreciate equity and want more of it.”

Rick Haglund is a freelance writer. You may contact him at 248-761-4594 or haglund.rick@gmail.com.

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