This legislative session marked a crucial milestone for equity in the outdoors, with $4 million in funding for equity-focused outdoor recreation investments, and $375,000 in operating funds provided solely to conduct a comprehensive equity review of state grant programs administered by the Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO).
Building on more than 30 years of history, a record-matching $100 million for WWRP funding could not have come at a better time. Whether it’s urban communities struggling with the effects of redlining and continued systemic racism, or rural communities struggling with changing industries and economies, not all communities have been able to participate in this highly competitive program.
Washingtonians continue to flock to the outdoors as we navigate the effects of COVID-19, and our environment continues to feel the effects of climate change. As our communities work to recover from the pandemic and address its disproportionate impacts on communities of color, rural communities, and people with disabilities, this investment is more important than ever.
The equity-focused funding will begin to address these disparities, in combination with an equity review process. Together, the funding and review will allow for immediate investments to begin addressing disparities, test out solutions, and identify those that are translatable between communities.
The purpose of the review are to reduce barriers to historically underserved groups’ participation in these grant programs, to address existing inequities in current policies and programs, and to improve the equitable delivery of resources and benefits in these programs.
In completing the comprehensive equity review, the RCO would identify changes to policy, operations and practices to further improve on equity in the grant application process. The office will identify new investments and programs that prioritize communities that have been historically underserved by conservation and recreation programs and policies. The RCO will also consider historic and systemic barriers that may arise due to any combination of the following factors: Race, ethnicity, religion, income, geography, ability, and educational attainment.
The office will collaborate with various agencies and organizations representing these historically underserved groups to conduct a community engagement process, which will inform the review. The RCO will complete the comprehensive equity review with all elements and considerations to the legislature by June 30, 2022.