Financial Support Advances Timely, Problem-Solving Research Amid rising costs and declining state support, grants and gifts are more important than ever

By Stan Paul

In the most recent fiscal year, UCLA Luskin received more than $32 million in extramural funding, which includes research grants and contracts, gifts from individuals, foundation funding and endowments. The School’s fundraising efforts contributed to almost $11.5 million of that total.

Amid rising costs and declining state funding for the University of California system, this type of support is more important than ever. External funding sources large and small allow individual scholars and UCLA Luskin-affiliated research centers to continue to pursue important and timely research on numerous policy issues, including such pressing topics as the environment, labor, crime and social justice. Here are just a few examples:

RETREATING FROM FIRE-PRONE ZONES

The devastation of wildfires is well-known in California — loss of life, displacement of people from their homes, and high rebuilding costs to individuals, governments and the private sector.

Liz Koslov, assistant professor of urban planning, studies social dimensions of climate change, environmental and climate justice, and how cities are adapting to effects such as extreme weather and sea-level rise as a scholar at UCLA Luskin and in association with the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA.

This research on wildfires and “managed retreat” has received support from the National Science Foundation, or NSF. The concept, in general, involves moving people and infrastructure out of harm’s way well before disaster strikes and is part a growing debate about managed retreat in high-risk coastal areas and fire-prone zones.

The grant resulted from the NSF’s 2022 call for proposals, which recognized wildland fire as “becoming an increasingly prevalent and pressing phenomenon nationally and globally.”

Her proposal received a one-year planning grant to develop a research agenda on the intersection of wildfire and managed retreat. The award is funded through the NSF’s Humans, Disasters, and the Built Environment Program and the independent federal agency’s Human-Environment and Geographical Sciences Program.

“While there have been recent calls in the media, and by some policymakers and academics, to consider relocating people and infrastructure away from places facing high wildfire risk, little research examines whether retreat is an effective or equitable response in wildfire contexts,” Koslov said. The existing understanding of managed retreat is based almost exclusively on studies by herself and others that focused on flooding and sea-level rise.

Koslov and her co-principal investigator Kathryn McConnell, a postdoctoral research associate at Brown University’s Population Studies and Training Center, argue that the dynamics of wildfire require attention in their own right.

MAPPING RACE, POVERTY, CRIME AND POLICING

Exposure to crime is among the factors that impact police decision-making and public trust in police, and that topic is part of a new study by Emily Weisburst, an assistant professor of public policy.

Thanks to a two-year grant from the Russell Sage Foundation, Weisburst and a UCLA colleague, Felipe Gonçalves of economics, plan to shed light on how and why the experience of crime and police enforcement of crime may differ in the United States for individuals from different races and income groups. The project uses descriptive mapping to look at disparities using high-frequency policing data — information that Weisburst said has not previously been available on a large scale.

Data from 911 calls, crimes and arrests across U.S. cities will be used to measure how Americans of different races and income levels are exposed to criminal activity. The researchers intend to document variations in exposure to crime and policing at a granular level in order to estimate the causal impact of residential segregation on racial gaps in neighborhood crime and arrest exposure.

“The analysis is really exciting, but it’s almost secondary to cleaning the data because the data collection is so ambitious. We’re getting these individual records of 911 calls, crimes and arrests from hundreds of cities around the country,” Weisburst said.

The data will come in different forms from different cities, and it all must be validated. Most of the data is now there to be verified, she said, “which allows UCLA graduate students and undergraduate students to get involved.”

Once disparities are mapped, the researchers will try to understand a primary causal factor: “We’re going to look at how these gaps vary across cities depending on their degree of segregation,” Weisburst said.

Guaranteed Income in L.A.

Assistant Professor of Social Welfare Judith Perrigo is more than two years into a five-year study to evaluate an experiment whereby some Los Angeles residents negatively affected by the pandemic have been receiving a guaranteed income of $1,000 a month.

Perrigo’s work, funded in conjunction with Los Angeles County and the University of Pennsylvania, is part of a larger effort to evaluate similar programs in cities across the nation.

Perrigo is currently looking at L.A.’s version, a pilot program called Breathe in which 1,000 individuals received $1,000 a month for 36 months. She is working with a team that includes co-principal investigator Margaret Thomas, formerly of UCLA and now an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, as well as PhD students.

“We designed a randomized controlled trial following those 1,000 people that are receiving guaranteed income,” Perrigo said. In addition, researchers are contacting about 2,000 people who are not receiving guaranteed income, but applied for the program.

“We’re examining the differences between those two groups on overall health and well-being,” Perrigo said.

A digital dashboard shows in real time how people are using the funds. It includes demographic data on participants, and the economic context for pilot participants in terms of unemployment and inflation.

The spending breakdown shows that food, transportation and housing are among the top expenditures, whereas health care/medical expenses and education are closer to the bottom. “Not surprisingly, the majority are using [the money] for basic needs like rent and utilities,” Perrigo said.

More broadly, she is also interested in understanding the program’s impact on health, mental health, overall well-being and child development. The researchers are looking at a subset of families that have young children under age 5.

“We want to know if this program, or a program like this, can help disrupt intergenerational poverty,” said Perrigo, who specializes in advancing holistic well-being for young children.

A Second Chance for Incarcerated Youths

Laura Abrams, professor and chair of Social Welfare, is among a team of researchers from across the country awarded support by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to lead an extensive national study of young people sentenced to life in prison who are ultimately given a chance at freedom.

The team’s three-year project is building a base of knowledge that supports safe and equitable sentencing and “second-look” policies for people sentenced to life in prison for offenses committed before they were age 18. Some have spent years behind bars.

“This research seeks to answer critical policy questions,” Abrams said. “Can we develop a set of evidence-informed policies that provide second chances for people serving long sentences for violent crimes? Can we reduce our overreliance on long sentences in the future without compromising public safety?”

L.A. County Supervisor Advocates ‘Poverty Disruption’ at Luskin Lecture Holly Mitchell wants to reweave the social safety net with an equity focus in the wake of COVID-19 and the stark inequalities it exposed 

By Les Dunseith

Poverty has been a cornerstone of the professional life of Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell as an elected official and in her prior work within child and family welfare organizations. Today, she is at the forefront of next-generation approaches that she thinks could fundamentally dismantle poverty in our society.

Speaking on the UCLA campus during a May 3 Luskin Lecture organized by the Luskin School of Public Affairs, Mitchell urged a crowd of faculty, staff, alumni and students to rally behind a current movement that goes beyond simply strengthening the social safety net.

“I think we have to reweave it, reimagine it and remake it to serve with equality, inclusion and humanity,” Mitchell said. “We have got to be as intentional about equity as previous generations have been intentional about exclusion.”

Organized in conjunction with a yearlong 75th-anniversary celebration of social work education at UCLA,  Mitchell was invited to speak because her focus on poverty coincides with the Luskin School’s mission.   

Social work was born as a profession to respond to poverty and inequality in society, said Laura Abrams, professor of social welfare and department chair, in her introductory remarks. Yet, social services programs like welfare and food stamps “have too often been coercive and judgmental, [with] caste stigma and population stereotypes racialized and inflicting harm on communities.”

Since being elected as a supervisor in 2020, Mitchell has pushed help for disadvantaged communities as a countywide priority, and her office’s effort to ensure that equity is a centerpiece of the local COVID-19 recovery plan has been held up as a national model.

In the wake of the pandemic, public officials have access to what Mitchell described as a “once-in-a-generation onslaught of public funds called COVID-19 recovery dollars.” Past tradition in L.A. County would have meant simply splitting those dollars equally among the five supervisorial districts. That made no sense to Mitchell. 

“From my perspective, it’s really pretty simple math: Those who have been disenfranchised and hit the hardest deserve the disproportionate investment in their recovery,” she said. 

This led to the creation of the first-ever countywide equity formula and public dashboard to ensure that federal dollars reach those most impacted by the pandemic. The L.A. County formula incorporates economic, social and environmental factors to identify the communities with the highest need, so far allocating $1.9 billion to 120 projects from the Antelope Valley to East L.A. to South L.A. and beyond. 

“For many of these neighborhoods, it’s the first time that government puts them at the front of the line for investments,” said Mitchell, who led one of the largest private, nonprofit child care and development corportations in California, Crystal Stairs, before entering politics and going on to serve in the California Assembly and Senate.

‘The era of invasive and patronizing social welfare in L.A. County is over,’ says Holly Mitchell.

A centerpiece of her policy history has been fighting against so-called benefit cliffs — eligibility restrictions on social services benefits that can trap people into cycles of poverty just to remain eligible for public assistance.

During her time at Crystal Stairs, Mitchell said, “my most painful days” related to working mothers faced with the prospect of losing public assistance because a work promotion would put them “pennies, literally, over the eligibility limit. And they were having to decide whether to walk away. ‘Do I keep this $3,000-a-month childcare voucher? Or do I take this promotion at work?’” 

Eliminating such dilemmas requires radically new approaches, Mitchell said.

“The era of invasive and patronizing social welfare in L.A. County is over. I’ll put the final nail in that coffin right now,” she said, prompting supportive applause from the UCLA audience.

“Research has shown us that things like work requirements and impossible barriers to eligibility do nothing to truly address poverty. It just continues to criminalize poverty,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got to go beyond, in my humble opinion, poverty alleviation and focus on poverty disruption.”

Central to her poverty disruption agenda for L.A. County is a pilot program called Breathe L.A., which is one of the largest guaranteed income programs in the nation. Since March 2022, it has been providing 1,000 Angelenos with $1,000 a month. The payment will continue for three years, no strings attached, for randomly selected participants who are 18 years or older and have been negatively affected by the pandemic.

Assistant Professor Judith Perrigo is among the researchers at UCLA Luskin helping to evaluate Breathe L.A., joining scholars currently evaluating similar guaranteed income efforts across the nation and around the world. 

Mitchell said that early results of that research belie the misguided perception put forth by opponents attempting to cast doubt on whether recipients will spend the money wisely.

“What’s the No. 1 thing participants in Breathe L.A. have spent the money on?” Mitchell asked the crowd, pausing a moment to let her listeners think about an answer. “It’s food. Food and basic necessities to feed their families. And making sure one less child is going to bed hungry, I believe that’s a good thing.”

After her prepared remarks, Mitchell was joined on stage by Perrigo for a Q&A session. “You have fire inside of you,” Perrigo told Mitchell, then invited her to describe where she finds the courage to advocate for poverty approaches like guaranteed income that have a history as political lightning rods.

Mitchell stressed the public servant aspect of her role, saying she thinks about the new mothers among her constituency who dream of creating a better life for their children. 

“Everyone has the right to have that dream. And the role of our society is to not create barriers to lift those possibilities,” Mitchell said. “When I think about things like that, it gives me the courage to go against the grain and fight.”

She recalled her effort in Sacramento to do away with a state provision that penalized low-income families receiving cash aid for having another child. After three frustrating defeats, she found success on the fourth try.

It will take similar perseverance to make guaranteed income a cornerstone of social services policy. 

“It’s a righteous fight,” said Mitchell, urging supporters in the audience to look at the gradual rollout of guaranteed income efforts as “an opportunity to expand your warrior base of people who will fight.”

She noted that the basic idea of guaranteed income is not new — Martin Luther King Jr. was a proponent, in fact. Decades later, it’s only now taking hold.

“It’s a movement,” said Mitchell, comparing Breathe L.A. to today’s bedrock public aid programs like Medicare and Social Security. 

“Those were, in their time, cutting-edge, innovative concepts around income security,” she said. “When I think about those game-changing, life-saving policy initiatives that I’m sure had a very rough start also, I believe we can get there.” 

The name, Breathe L.A., implies providing the means to weather a crisis — a little time to breathe — directly to people facing financial hardship.

Perrigo noted the popularity of the idea among lower-income, underserved communities and their advocates. But how will policymakers like Mitchell persuade skeptical taxpayers? 

 “If we are able to create healthier communities, safer communities, everybody benefits,” Mitchell said. 

Public education is also necessary. 

“It’s trying to acknowledge and help [skeptics] understand they started out 10 steps ahead, and this other community is trying to catch up. I think it’s important to have those kinds of conversations,” she said, “because that’s the honest truth.”

Mitchell is also a board member of LA Metro, and in response to a question from the audience, she said her priority for public transportation in the county is bus service “because that’s what a lot of our poor rely on.”

Eventually, she said, her goal is an entirely fareless bus system. For now, she takes heart in the success of Metro’s GoPass pilot program, which has provided more than 241,000 youths a free transit pass since it launched as a pandemic recovery measure in October 2021.

“The data … on school attendance is mind-blowing,” Mitchell said. “For some of us, it may be hard to imagine that $1.75 can stop a lot of people from going to school, but it can. Our K-12 ridership is double the pre-pandemic numbers.” 

Much of Mitchell’s presentation focused on touting accomplishments, but she acknowledged that L.A. County has no shortage of problems yet to be solved. Homelessness is a primary ongoing concern, “and we are 500,000 housing units short in L.A. County,” she said. “So, we have to build.”

Mitchell acknowledged that reality leads to difficult conversations. Want to stir up a political hornet’s nest? There’s no surer way in Los Angeles than going to a community homeowners association and talking about building more densely in neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes, she said.   

“People will roll up on me, and it’s, ‘What do you do about the homeless?’ And I say, ‘Well, as soon as you tell me how you are willing to have the composition of your own block change, I’ll tell you what I’ll do about the homeless,’” Mitchell said. 

“It is our moral dilemma,” she said. “And only when we have decided that we are sick and tired of being sick and tired — and that we’re not going to allow people to live like this anymore — can [developers, public agencies and governments] expand and build the diversity of housing that people need.”

View additional photos on Flickr:

UCLA Luskin Lecture With Holly Mitchell

4 Faculty Additions Join UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and Urban Planning Incoming academic experts focus on environmental, racial and health disparities in real and virtual environments — from social media to soil

By Stan Paul

Faculty hires in UCLA Luskin Social Welfare and Urban Planning for the new academic year bring a wealth of new research and teaching, reinforcing the School’s commitment to the health and well-being of individuals and communities.

Assistant Professor Brian Keum has joined Social Welfare. His general research emphasizes the reduction of health and mental health disparities among marginalized identities and communities. In particular, Keum studies the impact of online racism – and online racial violence – on psychosocial outcomes and health disparities. Drawing on his clinical experience, he looks at mental health issues, offline attitudinal and behavioral changes, and risky health behaviors that include substance abuse. A second area of his research is Asian American mental health, as well as multicultural and social justice issues that relate to how mental health counseling is provided.

“As a scientist-practitioner, I am excited to teach both practice and research courses,” said Keum, who will be offering graduate instruction in advanced social work practice and applied statistics in social work.

Judith Perrigo, an infant and early childhood mental health specialist, is also an assistant professor of social welfare. Amid the unusual circumstances of this academic year, Perrigo looks forward to exploring innovative teaching methods while providing meaningful learning experiences in both foundational and advanced social welfare practice courses. This includes sharing some of her recent research on how parents of low socioeconomic status with children in grades 3 to 6 are coping with the unexpected educational demands during the pandemic.

“Our findings suggest that the closure of schools and stay-at-home orders initiated by the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated pre-existing parental involvement challenges,“ Perrigo explained, noting that families of lower socioeconomic status were more negatively impacted because they “had fewer affordances to buffer the new stressors.”

Perrigo draws from her personal background as a Salvadoran immigrant and 15 years of applied clinical work with children and families to inform her scholarship. Specifically, her research focuses on the well-being of young children — birth to 5 years old — with emphasis on holistic and transdisciplinary prevention and early intervention initiatives with underserved, vulnerable and marginalized populations.

José Loya joins Urban Planning as an assistant professor after recently completing his Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. At UCLA Luskin he will teach quantitative analysis in urban planning and a seminar on Latino urban issues in the spring.

“My research focuses on ethno-racial disparities in the mortgage market, before, during and after the Great Recession. More generally, I am interested in the barriers minorities face in the homeownership market,” said Loya, who is also a faculty associate at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.

“I am excited to join UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs and working and engaging our students in the community,” added Loya, who worked for several years in positions related to community development and affordable housing in South Florida. He then earned a master’s in statistics from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. “I’ve already moved to Los Angeles, so I’ll be here locally even if courses are online,” Loya said.

Kirsten Schwarz, who holds a joint appointment as an associate professor of urban planning and environmental health sciences, started at UCLA by co-teaching policy analysis for environmental health science in the spring 2020 quarter.

“Virtually teaching my first class during a global pandemic and social uprising was not how I expected to kick off my career at UCLA,” Schwarz said. “But I was so impressed, and encouraged by, the flexibility, compassion and integrity that the students brought to the experience. It was certainly memorable.”

Schwarz is an urban ecologist working at the interface of environment, equity and health. Her research focuses on environmental hazards and amenities in cities and how their distribution impacts minoritized communities. She recently led an interdisciplinary team through a community-engaged green infrastructure design that integrated participatory design and place-based solutions to achieve desired ecosystem services.

“I’m interested in connecting those areas right between urban planning and environmental health sciences,” said Schwarz, whose work on lead-contaminated soils has helped document how bio-geophysical and social variables relate to the spatial patterning of lead in soils.

Most recently she received a transdisciplinary research acceleration grant from UCLA’s Office of Research and Creative Activities in conjunction with Jennifer Jay, a professor in UCLA’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Their proposal, “Multimedia Assessment of Children’s Lead Exposure in Los Angeles,” will involve work with graduate students in Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Schwarz also has expertise in science communication and in engaging communities in the co-production of science. She has been recognized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which named her a 2018-2019 Fellow in the Leshner Leadership Institute in the Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology. Prior to

joining UCLA, she was an associate professor of environmental science at Northern Kentucky University, where she directed the Ecological Stewardship Institute.

Several other faculty searches have been completed, with four additional faculty members set to join Social Welfare and Urban Planning in the coming year. Those new additions include Adam Millard-Ball, who will arrive in January as an associate professor of urban planning, coming from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Millard-Ball holds a doctorate from Stanford University’s School of Earth Sciences and was selected in the urban data science search. He studies environmental economics and transportation, “adding to our strengths in those fields,” said Dean Gary Segura in a memo announcing his appointment.

Mark Vestal, also starting in January, was selected as an assistant professor by UCLA Luskin Urban Planning in a search on critical Black urbanism, Segura announced. A historian by training, Vestal’s work looks at the history of discriminatory planning and housing policy in Los Angeles and beyond.

Fall 2021 newcomers will include Margaret “Maggie” Thomas in Social Welfare and Veronica Terriquez in Urban Planning.

Thomas is a scholar of family and child well-being and is completing her Ph.D. in social work at Boston University this year. She previously earned an MSW degree from the University of Illinois. Her work focuses on young children in families facing serious economic hardship, as well as children and youth from minority communities and with LGBTQ identities.

Terriquez has been jointly appointed to Urban Planning and UCLA’s Department of Chicano Studies where she will take on the leadership of the Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA. Terriquez, who earned a Ph.D. in sociology at UCLA, returns to the Westwood campus from UC Santa Cruz. Her work is principally focused on youth and young adult social development, leadership and intergroup relations, and how they are affected by various public policies.