March 24, 2017
The San Joaquin Valley is a testament to the troubling social, environmental, economic, and health divides that exist between individuals and communities living within relatively close proximity to one another. A mere three-hour drive from California's prosperous coastal communities, the Valley is home to a multi-billion-dollar agricultural industry, but many of the children who live there go hungry. And while the need for food assistance varies across the state, it is highest in the Valley. Data in our recently released report, California's San Joaquin Valley: A Region and Its Children Under Stress (32 pages, PDF), show that eight of the counties in the Valley are among the top nine agricultural producers in the state, and that seven of these same counties are among the ten counties with the highest child poverty rates. What's more, in six of the Valley's nine counties, over 40 percent of residents are enrolled in Medi-Cal, the state's health insurance program, while one in four schools do not have access to clean drinking water.
California also is home to more than two million undocumented immigrants, 10 percent of whom live in the region. Immigrants make up 42 percent of the agricultural workforce and 11 percent of the region's overall workforce, and emerging evidence shows that recent policy efforts have placed their safety, health, and emotional well-being at risk. In combination, these inequities place residents of the Valley at greater risk for negative, often preventable health outcomes such as childhood asthma, diabetes, depression, cancer, and trauma.
While California has provided leadership on some of the nation's most pressing health and racial equity issues, the San Joaquin Valley has been left behind. In fact, the Federal Reserve Bank has called the region "the Appalachia of the West." To address the complicated mix of challenges facing Valley communities, Sierra Health Foundation launched the San Joaquin Valley Health Fund (the Fund) to build and support a network of community organizations committed to promoting resident voices, ideas, and agency aimed at driving policy and systems change at a regional level. With an initial investment from Sierra Health Foundation and The California Endowment, the Fund is managed by The Center, a nonprofit created by Sierra Health Foundation to bring people, ideas, infrastructure, and resources to bear on the challenge of eradicating health inequities across the state. Among other things, The Center helps communities access proven practices, tap their existing knowledge and creativity, and act collectively to create the political will necessary to put their ideas into action. The investment fund is now a partnership of nine local, regional, state, and national funders, including The California Wellness, Rosenberg, W. K. Kellogg, Blue Shield of California, Wallace H. Coulter, Dignity Health, and Tides foundations.