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Biden infrastructure plan would boost gun violence prevention groups

Proposal would directly help minorities in low-income communities, supporters say

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., looks on as a video on mass shootings is played during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing March 23.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., looks on as a video on mass shootings is played during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing March 23. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Advocates and veterans of local gun violence prevention programs see a great victory in the $5 billion included in President Joe Biden’s infrastructure proposal and plan to make sure Congress sees the value in what would be a historic expansion of funding for their work.

“The way that we really turn the tide on this is by investing in solutions that work, and we’ve been making this case as a coalition, as a campaign, for months and years now,” Greg Jackson of the Community Justice Action Fund said on a group call with a number of those leaders. “And it is beyond inspiring to see that we’ve finally been heard and that action is happening.”

Biden’s proposal would give the first significant federal funding for gun violence prevention programs, keep it going for eight years, and would directly help minorities in low-income communities, Antonio Cediel of the LIVE FREE Campaign said. Biden was outlining the proposal in Pittsburgh after the White House released a fact sheet on the plan.

Traditionally there have been smaller grants within the Justice Department budget, such as $10 million or $15 million at a time, and they are highly competitive, so that funding usually lasts for a short time even for the few programs that can get it, Cediel said.

Many violence prevention programs in areas with high homicide rates have strategies with good track records of success, only to struggle for money to keep going or expand, Cediel said. A mayor changes and local funding evaporates or philanthropic money dries up, “so people have been just really kind of been piecing together a little bits of money as we go,” Cediel added.

Congress might question why gun prevention would get funding in the same legislation that would invest $2 trillion in the nation’s roads, waterways, airports, electric grid and broadband. The full proposal will face political headwinds from Republicans, who say only part of the funding goes to infrastructure and criticize the tax increase needed to fund it.

The White House, in a fact sheet on the plan, included a line on the funding in a section that describes how the plan “would target workforce development opportunities in underserved communities.”

Erica Ford of LIFE Camp Inc., a program in New York City that seeks to break the cycle of violence, said the $5 billion would come inside legislation “that is going to rebuild the roads and the blocks that many of our children died on.”

“Because recovery is real, recovery for our people is real,” Ford said. “And yes, it’s jobs, but it’s a lot of hope, and therapy, and services to help heal from the generation of death and destruction.”

The funding would help secure jobs at violence prevention programs, but the results of successful violence reduction efforts would put a significant dent in the estimated $2 trillion in costs of violence and trauma in the next eight years, said Fatimah Loren Dreier of the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention.

A study from Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund found that federal, state and local governments are spending a combined average of $34.8 million each day to deal with the aftermath of gun violence across the country. That totaled $280 billion a year.

“So you put that investment in upstream, you don’t have to pay for it downstream, so there’s significant economic impact to these investments,” Loren Dreier said. “There’s return on investment in terms of life and prosperity.”

And Cediel said that violence prevention has to be a key part of any broader push for economic recovery. “Certain businesses will not invest in neighborhoods because they think it’s too risky,” Cediel said. “It’s very difficult for vulnerable communities to get an economic foothold when the violence is rampant.”

Those on the call celebrated the inclusion of the funding in the bill itself as an achievement decades in the making. Anthony Smith of Cities United, which seeks to eliminate violence related to Black men and boys, said this is a crisis that needs a response just like the COVID-19 pandemic.

“So we need to move and we need to move quick. We need to be putting the pressure on Congress and others to make sure this happens,” Smith said. “We celebrate this moment where we know there’s much more work to do.”

The advocates say they will press the House and Senate to include the gun violence funding in the infrastructure bill, but that “it goes to the people on the ground and not pet projects, that it goes to the people who’ve been doing the work for years and years and years,” Ford said. “And that we use it to really break the cycle of death and trauma, and build generational wealth and generational health for our families.”

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