Proposition E May Help Boost Health Care Opportunities
Evita Cruz-Rangel resides in a small apartment in Dove Springs, part of District 2, with three children and her husband. This family of five lives off of an income of $28,000 and some government assistance. Although Rangel said she wants to work, she can’t leave her 2-year-old and autistic 18-year-old unattended.
“I haven’t been able to get a job because I don’t have anybody to take care of my daughter,” Rangel said. “And I applied for daycare with the workforce commission, but they denied me because I’m not working. But that’s the whole point of me getting daycare, so I can work.”
District 2 council member Delia Garza said the average income for a family of four in her district is about $50,000 – $30,000 less than the average income for a family of four in Austin. And according to the 2016 American Community Survey, 26.4 percent of the district’s residents live below the poverty level.
Garza said due to the lower income in District – but more specifically in Dove Springs – the city of Austin’s health department prioritized funding a health center for the residents. Proposition E, which will be voted on during the 2018 midterms as part of the bond package, will provide funding for the center if it is passed.
The cost to build and furnish the health center is estimated to about $16 million — or 1.7 percent of the $925 million bond. This center will provide public health nursing, immunization and nutrition for children and pregnant women, a childcare center for approximately 75 kids and guidance for those looking for employment.
“The reason we’re building it here is we want to make a more convenient, accessible for all low-income families that might not all have a car each and have to take long public transportation rides to get to other centers,” said Filip Gecic, manager at the Austin Public Health Department.
District 2 is home to about 33,281 Hispanics and Latinos – 75 percent of the district’s population. According to Austin Public Health, the leading cause of death in the Hispanic and Latino community is cancer, the second is heart disease and the fifth is diabetes. And the average age of death within the district is between 59 to 63 years old.
“We’ve had demographics mapped that showed, for instance, for some of our minority clients, that the greatest or highest concentrations of mortality rates for certain diseases are in these outskirts like Dove Springs,” Gecic said.
People typically go to the Dove Springs Recreation Center for recreational and educational resources. According to Austin Public Health, the center served 6,328 different people in 2017 through two food distribution programs. Austin Public Health anticipates 3,000 to 4,000 more clients will have access to more services if the new health center is built.
But not everyone believes aid to this community should come from taxpayer money. Amy Hedtke, creator of the Facebook page It’s OK to Vote NO, Austin, said that the money could be raised in other ways rather than paying for it out of taxpayer pockets.
“No matter how great the idea is, one of the founding principles of our country is you don’t take other people’s stuff, period,” Hedtke said. “If there’s something that you want to see done, follow the example of nonprofits around the world that have voluntarily raised millions and billions of dollars for capital building projects and maintenance and operations costs.”
Michael Granof, professor of accounting at the University of Texas, said that he believes it would be difficult to raise money for a health center in Dove Springs.
“First of all, you need the organizational structure to provide that,” Granof said. “I don’t think that’s terribly realistic – giving money for a project like a pediatrics health center and getting the money from a local foundation.”
Hedtke said her mother, who recently found out she was diabetic, is an example of why it’s not okay for citizens to pay taxes for the center.
“She is right now dealing with a lot of diet changes, prescription medication and energy in being able to watchdog what’s going on with the city,” Hedtke said. “So, you add more to her plate, you take more money off of her table, and it’s gonna be harder for her to get the foods that she needs to be healthy.”
Austin citizens will pay more in property taxes if the bond is approved. For the average home in Austin, which costs $355,000 according to Zillow, property taxes would increase by $71. Out of that increase, $1.21 would go to the cost of the health care center.
Rangel said she believes there should be more aid to the community, but ideally, without raising taxes and living costs. Rangel’s apartment is provided through affordable housing, but her family still faced a $200 increase in rent in the last several years.
She said a health center would help her to seek a professional quicker and allow her to have a place for her child while she works.
“I feel that I need more detailed health care,” Rangel said. “I need a women’s clinic. And the center over there, the Southeast clinic, doesn’t have a women’s specialty clinic. (The health center) is definitely going to make it better.”