By Marie Jobling and Fiona Hinze
For over a decade, California policy leaders have called attention to the graying of California and the needs of an expanding and significantly more diverse senior population. What’s more, in the over 25 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, innovative support and services have emerged to ensure greater participation of our community members with disabilities.
In San Francisco, government leaders and a strong network of community organizations have long recognized the importance of establishing services and supports for those most in need. The rapid growth in the number of older adults and adults with disabilities, coupled with the escalating cost of living in our city, is creating a true challenge. Through the San Francisco Long Term Coordinating Council, leaders have been working to create a baseline of support to meet the current need of our neighbors who are older or with disabilities—most of whom are barely making ends meet now. But our vision also includes building a stronger network of services and supports on that foundation, to assure everyone’s right to aging with dignity in their own homes and communities.
A small group of advocates examined the success of San Francisco’s Children’s Fund in bringing sorely needed attention and resources to children and youth over the past 25 years, and saw the necessity of raising awareness and increasing stable funding for seniors and adults with disabilities as our numbers continue to grow. The goal was to create a measure to address the needs of older adults and persons with disabilities, including veterans, persons aging with HIV and other chronic conditions, and caregivers.
The first step to assess the feasibility of a similar ballot measure was a professional political poll. The first leaders of our coalition undertook the initial fundraising for the poll, bringing in $38,000 from the first circle of Dignity Fund Coalition members. The results of the poll showed strong support for a ballot measure to set aside funds in the budget for these services.
Armed with the poll data, the group began meetings with then Mayor Ed Lee (1952–2017) and his staff as well as members of the Board of Supervisors to determine the scope of the legislation and level of funding. After many discussions, the language for a charter amendment called the Dignity Fund (Proposition I) was placed on the November 8, 2016, ballot with support from all but 2 of the 11 Board of Supervisors members.
Building on its efforts to get a measure approved by the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors, the Dignity Fund Coalition turned its attention to the voting public. After the measure won its place on the ballot as Proposition I, the Dignity Fund Coalition members fanned out across the city to win the support of community organizations, neighborhood associations, democratic clubs, labor groups and more—and even got a lovable mascot named Dignity Dog! The Coalition organized a Dignity Day event, which attracted hundreds of supporters, elected officials, and media; and garnered an impressive list of over 110 organizational endorsements in the months preceding the election.
On election night, Proposition I won handily in all Supervisorial Districts and in all but a handful of precincts across the city, with a final voter approval rate of 66.3%.
The need to increase funding for services to seniors and adults with disabilities had broad agreement. The decision to take a measure to the ballot to achieve that goal was not so easy. Most coalition members had little experience with this kind of political involvement and previous discussions about crafting a measure similar to the successful San Francisco Children’s Fund usually ended up with folks giving up before they even got started.
Fortunately, we had strong guidance and advice from veterans of the movement that put the Children’s Fund on the ballot. It took a lot of effort to get the early leaders in the Dignity Fund Coalition ready to do what it would take to win. The first step was to raise money for a political poll that would help assess the level of support, test various campaign messages, highlight areas of the city with the broadest support, and most importantly, show that we were serious. The early Coalition members helped to raise the $38,000 needed to conduct the poll. Tulchin Research undertook the poll on behalf of the Coalition and within a few weeks, we learned that our chances for success at the ballot box were very high.
The measure that created the Dignity Fund moved $38 million of existing services dollars into a special budget fund that was protected from future cuts. It also detailed a level of increased funding, starting with $6 million dollars the first year and adding $3 million additional each year for the next ten years, at which point the amount is increased on a percentage basis for the remaining 10 years covered by the legislation. The Department of Aging and Adult Services was charged with carrying out the mandate to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment and to begin the process of allocating funds.
The Dignity Fund Coalition leaders participated in the Oversight and Advisory group for the legislation. The Dignity Fund Coalition continues to meet monthly to monitor implementation and to preserve the intention of the fund. And we remain vigilant, as the two members of the Board of Supervisors who did not support the Dignity Fund set-aside are working to put a measure on the November 2018 ballot to weaken this and other set-asides for community services.
Information about the implementation of the Fund can be found at https://www.sfhsa.org/about/commissions-committees/dignity-fund-oversight-and-advisory-committee
Marie Jobling and Fiona Hinze are the Co-Chairs of the Dignity Fund Coalition.