Libraries, community centers, beautiful parks, traffic lights, safe and clean drinking water … These are some of the public services that form the foundation of a community. It is many of these essential services that helped us overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, but now they are at risk. We need a new approach to the San Jose budget that recognizes the value of these services to our community and helps us bring about economic recovery for everyone in San Jose.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, schools were closed. Corporations, day care, and other places followed. But for the frontline workers who provide vital services, we couldn’t just stay at home or seek shelter. If someone calls 911, you can’t hold conference calls to save a life or put out a fire 50 miles away. We kept going to work and doing our duty to serve our residents.
COVID has had a huge impact on our firefighters. Most people don’t know we are providing medical services, but every fire truck has a medic on board. They give life-saving procedures like giving medication, starting IV fluids, and intubating people who are no longer breathing. These are all services that we offer on a daily basis. And all of these activities increase the risk of developing COVID, as we do these procedures on-site rather than in the emergency room. At least 60 of our fire brigade employees have contracted COVID. Several were hospitalized.
Not only did we feel the effects of COVID, our firefighters battled some of the most devastating fires in California history that directly affected our communities.
And it’s not just firefighters who have put our lives on the line.
Mary Morse, senior manager in the environmental services department, said, “My team has been deployed as disaster relief workers across the community. Some people worked with the Second Harvest Food Bank. Some delivered meals to homeless shelters. They got involved to help their community and it was really difficult as they ran the risk of bringing COVID-19 back to their families every time they went to work. “
Code enforcement inspectors like Steve Solorio went to the San Jose communities hardest hit by COVID-19 to do his job. His team conducted inspections and verified that the dealers were following COVID-19 guidelines set by the county to promote health and safety. Her group reached over 2,000 companies / retailers in the city of San Jose.
Aracelli Delgado-Ortiz, an early education manager in the library department, ensures that programs for children ages zero to five are high quality and accessible. With schools closed, programs like Story Time and Preschool Education have helped busy parents and caregivers juggle teachers and workers throughout the pandemic.
Tiffany Dong, who oversees the Almaden Community Center, implements these programs on her site. She says: “Our teachers and activity leaders are a lifeline for the children when they cannot see people in their lives. I know our work touches life because of the many appreciative notes from families who have problems during this time. “
We have all felt the stress of COVID-19. It has made our work challenging, but we proudly stand up for our community every day.
We have seen the value of our public services. Our frontline workers have put their lives at risk to alleviate hunger, provide educational support to families, respond to medical emergencies, and more.
It is time for a change.
While the bankers were bailed out, the cuts in city services after the 2008 financial crash left us with a workforce that has never recovered. The 743 job vacancies in the city represent services that are not offered to our residents.
The mayor’s budget forecasts are a deficit as usual, but it really is a matter of priorities. We want our residents to be safe and thriving in our communities. To build a brighter future for San Jose, resources are needed.
With federal funding from the American Rescue Plan, we have the opportunity to invest in public services, with approximately $ 223 million going to San Jose. Public services have been undervalued for so long. Budgets reflect our values and we must now fund the services in full.
We can’t put $ 80 million in reserves just trying to survive. Let’s use this money to rebuild San Jose better and make San Jose a place for everyone.
Matt Mason is the representative and organizer of the International 21 Union of the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers in San Jose. Matt Tuttle is the president of the San Jose Fire Fighters Local 230 union.