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Disadvantaged Communities Tool

A Way to Find, Measure, and Access Funding

Environmental justice has come a long way since its inception alongside the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Once a novel term and concept is now a full-fledged movement influencing people in power, including the Federal Government.

In 2021, the Biden Administration created the Justice40 Initiative to ensure that federal agencies make good on environmental justice by delivering 40% of the investments in climate, clean energy, affordable and sustainable housing, clean water, and other projects to disadvantaged communities. A community qualifies as “disadvantaged” if a census tract measures above the threshold for environmental, climate, and socioeconomic indicators.

Yet, one of the challenges in executing Justice40 is finding the communities who are most in need of these investments, and directly streamlining funds to them. A new indicator within the Greenlink Equity Map helps make this possible and — dare we say — easy.

Our disadvantaged communities indicator comes from the federal Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST), which identifies communities that face disproportionate burdens. The tool computes a stack of socioeconomic and environmental statistics for every census tract in the country. These metrics include income, whether it is near legacy pollution sites, and has a high projected flood or fire risk.

There are numerous reasons we wanted to include this layer of data within the Greenlink Equity Map (aka GEM). With billions of investment dollars available through the American Rescue Plan, Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and the IRA, it’s an important moment to get right. This means ensuring that these disadvantaged communities need to be easy to identify.

It also means understanding community burdens at a deeper level. By including disadvantaged-community data in GEM, people can now concurrently measure other burdens communities face, including heat intensity, asthma rates, energy burden, tree cover, etc. Burdens sometimes cluster in eye opening ways revealing the inextricable connections between the environment, human health, and the cost of living. This is a highly efficient and manageable way to look at a multitude of factors affecting communities without having to have multiple windows and websites open.

Finally, any federal funding opportunities need to be paired with community engagement to paint a better picture of where the financial efforts should be focused. The disadvantaged communities indicator can help start the discussion of where local programs should focus.


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