When states overrule local policies, what is the impact on people's health and wellbeing? That’s the question for this funding opportunity. We are looking for meaningful collaboration to help find answers. Learn more!
Here in New Jersey, there is a state policy that every city or town has to offer housing that people with lower or middle incomes can afford. This rule came about because Black and Latino residents organized strategically for it almost 40 years ago. This statewide ruling has been very important in fighting unfair treatment in housing at the local level and making sure that everyone has a chance to find a home they can afford. Ensuring that all towns in New Jersey build their fair share of affordable housing helps make our communities more diverse and welcoming to everyone.
In contrast, cities and towns in 25 states aren't allowed to decide their own minimum wages. For example: In 2016, the Birmingham City Council wanted to raise the minimum wage in their city to $10.10. But the state of Alabama stepped in and made them lower it back to the federal minimum of $7.25. That's a difference of many thousands of dollars each year. It can be a life-changing amount that affects a worker's ability to afford important things like food, housing, transportation, and healthcare.
The Double-Edged Sword of Preemption
Though we all have dreams for ourselves and our families, we don’t all have the same opportunities to make those dreams come true. Often, opportunities depend on what’s available in our communities, shaped by local policies that grow out of the community’s strengths and address the community’s needs.
But sometimes a local policy, or people’s desire to create a new policy, conflicts with state policy. When this happens, state policy typically trumps—or preempts—local policy.
Preemption is when a higher level of government, such as a state legislature, restricts the authority of a lower level of government, such as a city council. This impact on local laws isn’t necessarily good or bad.
But understanding how preemption can either advance or hinder racial equity is crucial to shaping equitable policies.
The examples from New Jersey and Alabama show that preemption can cut both ways. In the first case, state policy has ensured consistently high standards and helped keep people safe from discrimination when it comes to finding an affordable place to live. In the second, the rules made by the state have stopped local governments from improving economic wellbeing for workers who earn lower wages, many of whom are people of color and women.
A Funding Opportunity to Study Preemption’s Impact on Racial Justice and Health Equity
Sometimes a one-size-fits-all approach helps avoid a patchwork of conflicting policies across a state. Other times this approach can create barriers to equal opportunity for all.
How are state preemption policies impacting racial equity?
How can preemption inform policies that lead to racial justice, especially when it comes to things like health, housing, jobs, schools, roads, the environment, elections, the justice system, immigration, and rights for people with disabilities?
For policies that seek to optimize racial justice and health equity, how can state and local governments find the right balance of power?
How does preemption affect civic engagement efforts like voting and people's ability to have a say in ballot measures?
How are the coalitions that are working to make our democracy stronger and keep people healthy affected by state preemption of local policy?
Ultimately, this research initiative should shape approaches to and uses of preemption and the responses to these policies that provide everyone’s children and grandchildren with the best possible future and help everyone reach their best health and wellbeing.
Policies for Action accepted letters of interest for this funding opportunity until August 10, 2023. Up to six awards will be funded for a maximum of 24 months from a pool of up to $1.5 million. Research teams reflecting a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, disability, and seniority were encouraged to apply.
Help uncover the effects of state preemption policies on racial justice and health equity.
About the Author
Mona Shah, director, Research, is focused on understanding and measuring key health and healthcare issues essential to the Foundation’s overarching strategy to move our nation toward a Culture of Health.