GUEST COLUMN:

Let the North Las Vegas community breathe

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Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak speaks during a Covid-19 update press conference Wed., June 24, 2020.

Three months into the devastating coronavirus health crisis, we continue to see the number of sick people rising and too many lives lost.

In North Las Vegas, we’ve experienced a staggering death toll, concentrated in our communities of color — an anomaly so great that the Southern Nevada Health District deployed the first testing in the state to our city, an effort that continues with additional screening facilities opening.

So you can imagine how shocked and dismayed my colleagues on the North Las Vegas City Council and I were to learn about Gov. Steve Sisolak’s plan to distribute CARES Act funding to every municipality in Nevada except four cities in Southern Nevada: North Las Vegas, Henderson, Boulder City and Mesquite. Behind only the city of Las Vegas, which received $119 million in direct CARES Act funding, North Las Vegas has had the highest incidence rate of COVID-19 infection in Nevada. As councilwoman for one of the largest minority-majority cities in the country, it is unjust and truly outrageous to exclude our state’s largest community of color from receiving this federal relief.

We are asking the state to simply follow the law and the guidance issued by the U.S. Treasury to allocate the funds as intended. The treasury’s guidance is simple and clear: Counties and cities with populations over 500,000 (the city of Las Vegas and Clark County in Southern Nevada) received CARES Act allocations directly from the federal government; all entities with populations under 500,000 receive their allocation from the governor.

It is breathtakingly unfair to give millions in COVID relief dollars to counties that did not have one single confirmed case of COVID, while withholding relief from a disproportionately impacted community. In sending state-allocated funds to all of the counties and municipalities outside of Clark County, the governor is prioritizing these primarily white communities that are experiencing a much lower per capita COVID-19 impact, if any at all. This is equitable neither to our minority-owned businesses nor our underserved community awakened by the national conversation of justice and demand for equal treatment. It’s easy for leaders to talk about support and allegiance. Now we expect to see that in practice.

Historic inequalities like this are the reason North Las Vegas residents have been disproportionately devastated by COVID-19. Of the deaths reported in North Las Vegas during the peak of the pandemic, 66% of the people lost were Black. That’s staggering and among the highest death rates of any African American population in the United States.

Businesses and jobs are vanishing. Families are struggling. Last week alone, city staff heard from more than 100 North Las Vegas businesses, nearly half of them minority-owned, about how the pandemic has affected them. A quarter have closed temporarily, and several expect to close permanently. Most reported laying off some or all of their staff.

To date, 46 of 50 states have developed robust programs for federal CARES Act dollars to provide relief, enabling cities and counties to enact timely, impactful programs to help residents and businesses. Nevada once again is at the bottom of a good list, as our state’s money sits unused in a bank account while people die and businesses close. If local governments had received their allocations sooner, even if only by a few weeks, countless jobs and livelihoods could have been saved.

No matter how inequality is disguised, the systematic pillaging of our most vulnerable must stop. Enough is enough — our community will not take this unequal treatment lying down. Now is the time to take the knee of oppression off our neck.

I empathize with the difficult task our governor is facing, and I thank his staff for all of their work in trying to determine how to contain the virus, protect Nevadans’ health and keep our state open for business. I certainly do not envy the position he is in. But I, and my colleagues, stand ready to assist. The city of North Las Vegas has programs ready to launch to keep our minority businesses operating, maintain jobs, assist residents with utility and rental payments, and provide other essential services and aid to our community.

Our residents deserve these same benefits every other Nevadan outside of Southern Nevada will receive. I urge our state to follow in the steps of other states that have allocated funding equally to all local governments. I urge collaboration with our governor to distribute the CARES Act money as Congress intended — to mitigate the real impacts of COVID-19 — with participation from the local governments on the front line dutifully enforcing his directives.

Pamela Goynes-Brown was elected Ward 2 councilwoman in 2011.