July 16, 2024 1:53 am
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Gig Work Bill Disproportionately Impacts Colorado Communities of Color | Opinion

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by Portia Prescott, Colorado Newsline

Every family and every community in Colorado should have equitable access to the essential goods and services they need — including access to nutritious food and reliable transportation. As the leading voice for racial equity in the Rocky Mountain region, we know that is far from the case today, as Black families here and across the country are bearing the brunt of rising inflation. This can be especially crushing in a city like Denver, which is facing the second highest rate of grocery inflation in the country. Looking at the cost of eggs, fresh vegetables or even milk has become completely unaffordable for many lower-wealth communities.

So why is the Colorado Legislature attempting to pass a bill that threatens to exacerbate these challenges while adding new discrimination risks for communities of color? Clearly, they don’t mind paying $6.99 to $8.99 for a dozen eggs and $11.99 if you shop at Whole Foods.

Senate Bill 23-98, which was introduced in January, would increase the cost of vital services like grocery delivery and ride-share transportation for Coloradans. Specifically, the bill would impose an additional fee for using these services — sending prices even higher after the state Legislature already tacked on a new surcharge for the very same services last year.

We all know that any time there is an additional fee, it pops up as a new added cost directly to us consumers. You see it on the cable bill, cell phone bill and now our utility bills. When will our legislators realize that any additional fee to a service causes higher costs to the consumer?

For many Coloradans in lower-income communities, whether they’re trying to get to a doctor’s appointment or put healthy food on the table, app-based services like grocery delivery or transportation services aren’t merely a convenience — they’re a necessity. We’ve made some progress with recent grocery store openings in the Montbello and Green Valley Ranch area, but according to the Colorado Health Foundation, low-income communities in Colorado are more likely to be in food deserts, where residents lack access to nutritious food options. At the same time, a study by the Colorado Department of Transportation showed that 11% of poor, rural households and 27% of poor, urban households have no car.

Inflation is rising and crushing communities; now is not the time to create new fees.

Over the past decade, app-based delivery and transportation services have played an important role in bridging these gaps. They are also better sources for financial stability, because, let’s face the facts, purchasing an automobile is further connected to the racist systematic FICO-score machine, which straps lower-wealth individuals to debt and higher car insurance rates — which makes app-based services even more necessary.

Further, digital food platforms have increased access to groceries and prepared meals in communities across the United States, and today, 90% of individuals living in low-income, low-food-access areas can access at least one digital food option, according to a Brookings Institute study. These services can also help families on a budget adopt healthier eating habits: A study last year by No Kid Hungry, the University of Kentucky and Instacart found that low-income families that shop for groceries online purchase more fruits and vegetables without increasing their total grocery bill.

Meanwhile, use of rides-hare for transportation in predominantly Black and brown communities has increased as it offers an alternative in areas underserved by taxis, according to Pew Research Center.

Increasing costs for these important services — especially as food prices are rising and budgets are stretched thin — would disproportionately hurt lower-income Coloradans who count on these services. Inflation is rising and crushing communities; now is not the time to create new fees.

Additionally, the bill could also lead to destination discrimination for those traveling in and out of communities of color. Under the legislation, drivers would receive additional information about riders’ destinations or food-delivery drop-offs prior to accepting a trip or order. While app-based companies provide a lot of this information already, under SB-98’s requirements, companies would be stripped of the ability to screen certain information, even if a driver repeatedly declines trips to underserved communities.

As a result, drivers could decide they never want to take a trip to historically Black neighborhoods and there would be nothing a company could do. SB-98 would make destination discrimination easier, threatening service for those in already underserved communities.

As a community leader, I am committed to stamping out all forms of racial discrimination and accelerating the well-being, education, and economic security of Black people and all persons of color. This includes ensuring Black communities have equitable and affordable access to essential goods and services.

Unfortunately, this new legislation would do the very opposite. At one of the worst possible moments, SB-98 would increase costs for services Black Coloradans rely on every day and introduce new discrimination risks for underserved communities.

This story was written by Portia Prescott, president of the Rocky Mountain NAACP CO-WY-MT State Conference and contributor to the Colorado Newsline, where this story first appeared.

Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.