April 8, 2019

In their recent post for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Blog, RWJF senior program officer Monica H. Vinluan and ChangeLab Solutions senior VP of innovation and impact Shauneequa Owusu delve into Changelab’s new guide to ensuring health for all.

A Blueprint for Changemakers, Achieving Health Equity through Law & Policy is a groundbreaking new resource that identifies 5 primary drivers of inequities, and presents strategies for addressing each of them.

“We believe law and policy can be one of the most effective paths forward to a healthier, more equitable America. And you don’t have to be a lawyer or an elected official to use law and policy as a tool.”

Read the full blog post here.

April 2, 2019

Policy analysts Nessia Berner Wong and Nadia Rojas recently submitted a comment about a proposed United States Department of Agriculture rule-change. This change would tighten existing work requirements for SNAP recipients by limiting states’ ability to apply for waivers for localities with high rates of unemployment. The USDA estimates that approximately 755,000 SNAP recipients would lose their benefit eligibility because of the change.


Berner Wong and Rojas argued that the proposed rule would “compound detrimental effects on populations already experiencing health disparities and negatively impact the economic health and future of cities, states, and the United States.”


Read the full letter here.

March 28, 2019

Writing a commentary in Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, senior VP of innovation and impact Shauneequa Owusu recently praised County Health Rankings’ 2019 report, which focuses on the link between housing and opportunities to be healthy.

“Decades of research have shown that safe, stable, affordable housing sets the foundation for a healthy life. Conversely, housing instability is associated with poor health outcomes, particularly for children and youth,” she writes.

Owusu also calls attention to racial disparities in housing, and how those disparities precipitate inequities in health and opportunity:

“The stark differences in opportunities to live in safe, affordable homes, especially for black residents, are tied to discrimination and institutional racism from enduring, deep-rooted, and unfair systems, policies, and practices, such as the pernicious effects of redlining, which have led to consistently worse health outcomes for people with low incomes and people of color.”

Read Shauneequa’s full commentary to learn about the solutions she proposes.


The mission of ChangeLab Solutions is to create healthier communities for all through equitable laws and policies. Check out our online catalog, connect with us on Twitter or Facebook, join our email list, and support our work!

March 26, 2019

As part of their media coverage surrounding this important issue, the New York Times quoted Ben Winig, our vice president of law & policy, about the proven efficacy of soda taxes for preventing childhood obesity and the nefarious legal strategies used by Big Soda companies to counteract community action.

Read an excerpt of Ben’s comments below, or access the full article on the Times website.

Benjamin Winig, vice president for law and policy at ChangeLab Solutions, an advocacy group, said he hoped the new recommendations would help build the political will needed to overcome increasingly muscular pushback from beverage manufacturers.

Faced with a surge of local soda taxes, the industry has been backing so-called pre-emptive legislation at the state level that prohibits municipalities from creating taxes on food and beverages. The effort has been successful in states including California, Michigan and Washington.

In the end, though, he said local municipalities were in the best position to address the growing crisis of childhood obesity.

“The public health community is winning, but it’s a very difficult battle,” he said. “Our kids are getting sick and dying and what we really need is for government to step up their mission to keep people safe.”


The mission of ChangeLab Solutions is to create healthier communities for all through equitable laws and policies. Check out our online catalog, connect with us on Twitter or Facebook, join our email list, and support our work!

March 1, 2019

How can school funding priorities align with what we know about discipline practices, supportive learning environments, and health equity? Policy analyst Cesar De La Vega and health equity lead Aysha Pamukcu co-authored this opinion piece with Kanwarpal Dhaliwal from the RYSE Youth Center in Richmond, CA. Read the full op-ed below or on the Chronicle website.

Open Forum: To learn, students need more teachers, not more police, on campus

By Cesar De La Vega and Kanwarpal Dhaliwal

Staffing in California schools reflects lopsided priorities, with twice as many police officers as social workers and nearly 1,500 students per nurse. Nationally, it’s a similar picture, and the severity of the problem varies by race. Consider that black middle and high school students are three times more likely than white students to attend a school with more security staff than mental health providers.

Teachers across California have taken to the streets to protest this discrepancy. In both Los Angeles, where teachers ended their strike last month, and Oakland, where teachers headed to the picket lines last week, the demands included more resources for students, such as counselors and smaller class sizes. California lawmakers, however, continue to introduce legislation that would spend valuable education dollars on more security personnel.

The teachers’ demands in Los Angeles and Oakland are aligned with growing research evidence that finds not only do over-policed, under-resourced environments make students feel less safe and supported, they take a real toll on students — especially students of color. Drawing on qualitative data from students themselves and public health evidence, we know what’s required for students to feel safe and ready to learn: a foundation of caring, predictable relationships grounded in trust.

Federal policy however has doubled down on outdated safety strategies that make schools look — and feel — like prisons. The Federal Commission on School Safety recently recommended hardening schools, an approach that relies on fear and punishment, complete with metal detectors, surveillance systems, prison-style limited entry points, and school resource officers. SROs — law enforcement officers tasked with maintaining safety and preventing crime — cost upward of $100,000 per officer per school year. New research increasingly questions whether they actually make schools safer.

Strengthening — rather than hardening — our schools may seem like a tall order, but the good news is that we know what works. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognize that school connectedness — the belief that a student’s teachers and peers care about their learning, and about them as an individual — is critical to academic success and healthy behavior. Policies and practices such as social and emotional learning and restorative justice help build feelings of school connectedness and community.

These findings reflect what we’re hearing from local youth and advocates at RYSE, a community-based organization dedicated to empowering the youth of Richmond. Throughout extensive ongoing inquiry, young people consistently shared that school environments are not the safe spaces that they want to learn in and teachers want to provide.

It’s no secret that education funding is limited and many schools are under-resourced. The recent teachers strike in Los Angeles led to a deal with city leaders that provides more support staff, including nurses, counselors and librarians. The teachers union in Oakland hopes to achieve the same, with their demands focusing on more student support personnel, including counselors, nurses, psychologists and librarians.

We’re receiving a clear message from our students and teachers about the choices ahead. State and local lawmakers have an opportunity to build on this movement to strengthen our schools. Parents and other community members can continue to educate decisionmakers about how school connectedness is the foundation of a safe, positive school environment. And students too can continue to mobilize to make themselves heard.

Do we continue to pour tax dollars into hardening our schools, or will we invest in what works: listening to students and providing safe and supportive learning environments? We can’t afford to get this wrong.

Cesar De La Vega is a policy analyst at ChangeLab Solutions. Kanwarpal Dhaliwal is associate director and interim executive director at RYSE Center. Aysha Pamukcu, who also contributed to this commentary, is the health equity lead and a senior attorney at ChangeLab Solutions.