With cases dropping and vaccine availability up, the Inland Southern California region is finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel of the COVID-19 crisis.

Unfortunately, the wake of devastation left by the pandemic will stay will us long after the virus itself has been tamed.

One of the lingering side effects of the pandemic continues to be high unemployment relative to the rest of the state and country.

For the last quarter of 2020, employment rates for the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario metro statistical area trended two points worse on average than the national unemployment rate, to say nothing of consistent double-digit unemployment that persisted throughout the first six months of the crisis.

While COVID-19 is a once in a century event whose impacts could not have been anticipated, the region will continue to experience employment volatility, the causes of which are not immediately known.

But what if there was an early warning system for employment disasters the same way we have early warning systems for wildfires?

Well, that is exactly what Inland SoCal United Way is proposing to create.

Using the 211 Contact Centers we run for San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, United Way has access to real-time data on demographics, community needs, and barriers to employment, and we plan to use that data to approach Congress for community project funding to launch a pilot program, Inland SoCal Works, that will act as an employment emergency early warning system.

Community project funding, formerly known as earmarks, allows each member of Congress to submit up to 10 proposals to receive appropriations funding during the budgeting process.

United Way’s Inland SoCal Works program would connect federal dollars to real, measurable improvements in the employment landscape for San Bernardino and Riverside County residents. Through an early warning system that could identify emerging employment needs or areas for job training investment, this innovative program would provide community leaders and elected officials with the ability to respond in real-time to the needs of their constituents.

Inland SoCal United Way’s service area spans the 31st, 35th, 36th, and 41st California congressional districts represented by Congressmembers Pete Aguilar, Norma Torres, Raul Ruiz, and Mark Takano, respectively.

While each proposal can only be submitted by a single member, Inland SoCal United Way urges our representatives to work collaboratively to find the best possible course of action to ensure that our proposal is submitted for review by the Appropriations Committee.

Together we can build a region that works for all residents and leads to a more prosperous future for all.

(Jacquelynn Espey is the director of marketing and brand management for Inland SoCal United Way.)

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