Cities across the country have been severely impacted by the spread of the COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, pandemic. The city of Birmingham, Alabama, is home to the fourth-largest African American population in the nation, which is also one of the groups most impacted by the virus. Because of the disorganized approach of the federal government, restrictions and relief services can vary state by state and city by city. In Birmingham, the city has been making strides in combatting the coronavirus using a unique partnership inspired by a decades-old service program.
The Birmingham Service is the only program of its kind in America. It was modeled after the Works Project Administration (WPA) from the New Deal Era under Franklin D. Roosevelt and is a part of a new public-private partnership called Bham Strong, a two-part economic stabilization strategy aimed at fortifying small businesses and works to help the community amid COVID-19.
“From the beginning, we have refused to fight just an economic crisis or a public health crisis. Instead, we have acknowledged that we must combat both,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin in an email interview with BLACK ENTERPRISE about the city taking a different approach to the viral outbreak. “We have listened to feedback from public health experts and residents concerning economic insecurity. This data involves face coverings, emergency small business loans, and curfew ordinances. We are now going beyond survey data and interviewing residents to understand what they want and how this crisis is going to affect them not just today, but also down the road.”
The Service Corps was meant to be a more active approach to handling the crisis similar to how the city handling the Great Depression recovery. The goal is to enlist recently unemployed workers as paid volunteers for temporary jobs to help meet basic community needs that have emerged as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
“First and foremost, the Service Corps has enabled us to offer work opportunities to those who’ve lost jobs during this crisis. We believe this crisis displaced workers who do not want to sit on the sidelines,” continued Mayor Woodfin.
“They want to stay in the game, which is why we deployed people in a variety of ways to help serve needs in our community. That includes screening public housing residents, interviewing residents to understand their needs and distributing school supplies and school meals. We also believe this approach will give people useful skills in the long term to help build their careers. The Birmingham Service Corps has served as a nimble workforce and framework to address emerging needs.”