Jasmine Beach-Ferrara on the Issues
oWhy Policy Matters
At its best, policy helps people thrive and also expresses a community’s shared values. My approach to Buncombe County policy is shaped by listening to the stories of people in our community; the core values of community, equality and opportunity; the expertise of impacted people, county staff, community leaders and frontline service providers; and evidence-based research.
It’s also shaped by how my life, and the lives of those I love, have been directly impacted by both good policies and bad policies.
In my own life, I’ve directly felt the impact of excellent policies - like strong public schools - and harmful ones - like North Carolina’s Amendment One. I've seen friends and loved ones impacted by policies around racial justice and access to quality health care.
Policy is powerful. But if we are to move the needle on entrenched problems like poverty, good policy must be combined with other approaches as non-profits, faith communities, the private sector, and community members work together in new ways.
Early Childhood Education: Thriving Kids
Every child deserves an equal opportunity to thrive and that starts the day they are born. I support expanding access to quality early childhood education from birth through universal Pre-K. I'm honored to chair Buncombe County's Early Childhood Education and Development Committee, which launched in 2019. Working with stakeholders and other Commissioners, I helped lead the effort that created the Early Childhood Education and Development Fund, which allocates $3.6 million annually to local initiatives to expand classrooms and create new slots; build a healthy workforce development pipeline to recruit and retain educators in the field; support new strategies to scale our local system to serve more children; and support wrapraound programming for children and families impacted by issues such as poverty, trauma, and addiction.
A Path Forward in Responding to the Opioid Epidemic: Support and Belonging
Buncombe County has been hit hard by the opioid crisis and so many in our community are hurting as a result. Our county is on the frontline of responding to this, from EMS calls, to supporting new models of treatment programs, to funding harm reduction programs, to being a plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking damages from a pharmaceutical company.
I support a continued multi-pronged approach that focuses on prevention, treatment, enforcement, and accountability from the corporations whose actions fueled this crisis. I support harm reduction strategies, expanded access to mental health services, and acting nimbly to implement promising practices from other communities.
During 2019, I have worked with the Buncombe County Sheriff's Office, NCDHHS and other partners to build support for a new program to offer Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) at the Buncombe County Detention Center. We passed a resolution by a 6-1 vote endorsing this strategy in August 2019 and I published this op-ed on the topic.
Other action steps I support include supporting expanded housing options for moms in recovery and their children; and exploring the creation of public care centers where people can access harm reduction services, restrooms, food, and a pathway into receiving the medical care they need.
Housing: A Safe, Affordable Home for Everyone
Housing is a basic right and I have been a champion of the county's work to expand access to affordable housing. This includes critical investments in large-scale projects like the new East Haven project that will bring 95 affordable units to Swannanoa and steps such as expanding the Affordable Housing Services Program funding. I also support the creation of a housing trust fund, setting concrete annual goals around county funding for affordable housing, and actively collaborating with other entities - like employers on workforce housing - to put county funding to work across a portfolio of affordable housing projects.
Public Education: Equity and Opportunity for All, Competitive Pay for Teachers and Staff
Public education is one of the most crucial things that happens in local communities and I support robust funding and support for our local systems. We specifically need to invest in strategies to ensure that every single child has an equal opportunity to thrive and it's exciting to see initiatives like the Community Schools models growing across our community.
I support teacher and staff salaries that are competitive and treat people with the respect and dignity they deserve. I will continue to be a voice for reform at the state level to restore and increase state funding for schools and teacher pay, and I will continue to be a champion of public education as a local priority.
Public Transit: Expanding Service to Match Our Growth
Transit and affordable housing go hand in hand in Buncombe County. We need to expand housing along public transit corridors and we need also to expand public transit to ensure that it's a functional option for more people - meaning you can get where you need to go, whether it's work or school, efficiently. That means action steps such as collaborating with the City of Asheville to support expanded routes and it means making the county's public transportation options as accessible as possible, including fare free rides. As our community grows, the need for a robust public transportation system and other public infrastructure grows too.
Criminal Justice Reform: Justice and Safety for Everyone
County Commission does not have direct decision making power over most of the crucial issues in criminal justice reform, but we can raise important questions, advocate for new approaches, and make decisions about the allocation of county funding to support reform efforts. To start, I do not support building a new county jail and I do support strategies to reduce the number of people in jail, including diversion programs, bail reform, and expanding access to mental health care services and treatment for addiction. I also support taking a fresh look at how the Inmate Welfare Fund is used to ensure that every dollar is spent directly on promoting the safety, health, and well-being of people while they are incarcerated. Ending the era of mass incarceration begins locally.
I'm currently serving on the Justice Resource Advisory Council, which brings together stakeholders from across the local criminal justice system to work on projects such as reducing the jail population and the implementation of Raise the Age.
Renewable Energy and Preserving Natural Resources: Local Action to Combat Climate Change
I was proud to vote for the county embarking on a plan to go to 100% renewables, and to actively support other public institutions, like schools and fire departments, in assessing ways to improve energy (and cost efficiencies). Taking local action like this is one important piece of how we respond to the threats of climate change. These measures go hand in hand with our abiding responsibilities to be stewards of farmland and the extraordinary natural resources and beauty of our community.
Opportunity for All: A Strong, Diversified and Equitable Local Economy
This is about the dignity of work and ensuring that people are treated with respect at work, paid what they deserve, and have access to the benefits they need over their lifetime. On County Commission, we have ensured that all county employees make at least $15/hour to be aligned with the national movement to increase worker pay. I support creating a paid family leave policy, as the state of North Carolina and Wake County have as a way to recruit and retain the most talented employees and, as a local anchor institution, to help establish this as an expectation in our community. I also support innovative and impactful approaches to job and workforce development, specifically through the county's Justice Resource Center, collaborations with
AB-Tech, through Economic Development programs and through targeted Strategic Partnership Grants.
Tell me about the issues you care about and the solutions you want to see in Buncombe County.