Interview Transcript: Matt Haney

This transcript is from an interview on our radio program and podcast “Civic,” published as part of our February 2022 nonpartisan election guide. Though “Civic” will broadcast only seven minutes of each candidate’s interview to give each equal airtime on our program, we are making a transcript of the full conversations available. These transcripts have been edited for clarity. 

Laura Wenus 

I think maybe people are sick of hearing me talk about this, but we are still in a record-breaking spike of coronavirus cases, though at the time of this recording, I think we’ve peaked and we’re starting to come down. I am not convinced this is now over and everything is going to get better from here on out. People are still getting sick and they will continue to get sick even if we’re on a downward slope of infections. You’ve been a vocal advocate of things like vaccine access locally and you’ve been, you know, a local legislator handling this pandemic for a couple of years now. How do you think that the state legislature should be responding and how would you be pushing state policy to respond to the pandemic if you’re elected?  

Matt Haney  

Well, thank you for that question. It’s really been at the forefront for all of us over the last few years, and I hope that we’ve learned how to respond better to this pandemic as well as future ones. I think, you know, first and foremost, we still need help in our public health systems and our hospitals to make sure that they can be adequately staffed to respond. We have, before the pandemic, a crisis within our health care system related to staffing — shortages of nurses — and the support from the state and the investments going to public health departments across the state is critical, so that needs to continue.  

The state also plays a critical role in procuring supplies for us, like tests. We had a situation where we were waiting for tests from the state to get here to make sure that we could test folks who were going back into our public schools, making sure that all of our cities and counties have adequate supplies and support for staffing is critical. We have to go further than that. You know, the state did things during the middle and early parts of the pandemic, like allowing for an eviction moratorium, like sending regular checks to families that were losing funds because of the impact of this virus. Additional sick leave. These are things that the state can do, and only the state can do. And we need them to do it again and continue doing it.  

So, the responses that took place throughout the pandemic really do need to continue, and we need to learn from them. We can’t have folks who are Uber drivers, for example, not have access to sick pay or basic protections. That puts them at risk and puts all of us at risk during the pandemic, certainly, and even after it. So, these are things that I would like to see the state really step up to do to provide support for our local public health departments, our hospitals, but also really extend and expand some of those critical protections that allowed the most vulnerable to be able to protect themselves and those around them.  

Laura Wenus  

Do you see yourself continuing your work on vaccine access advocacy at the state level if you’re elected? Because I mean, I was seeing a lot of pushing from you to make sure that people, especially in your in your supervisor district, had access to this and had easy access to this. And in the Tenderloin, there’s been a lot of roving vaccine outreach where folks on the street can get vaccinated on the spot. And I think you’ve walked along with that team a couple of times.  

Matt Haney 

Well, we have to meet people where they are. And, you know, too often when it comes to health care access, we leave out the people who most need it. And we saw that during the vaccine rollout. Neighborhoods like the Tenderloin and Treasure Island were left out, so I really fought to make sure that vaccines were not only in community health clinics there, but actually out on the streets and having people walk around and meet people where they are. Actually because of that work, the Tenderloin had, ultimately, rates of vaccinations that was comparable to the rest of the city. We need to have similar approaches to that as we think about boosters, as we think about future boosters.  

I’m going to have a very close and proactive eye on equity and making sure that the vaccines are getting to the people who most need them the most vulnerable people in neighborhoods. Because if we don’t do that, the virus will spread and ultimately that affects everyone. So we really, I think, saw that early on where we were seeing large spikes of cases among the Latino community in the Mission, in the Bayview, in the Tenderloin. And so, we were in a race against the clock to get the vaccines to those communities. And I think as we think about the next phase of this and the role of the state, it’s critical that the state gets vaccines to where they’re most needed. And unfortunately, it feels like that’s going to continue to be a need for leadership in the coming years.  

The state actually set a formula to determine where vaccines would go, and there were a lot of problems with that, and I was very involved not only in making sure that vaccines got to neighborhoods where they were most needed, but also that they improved their communications. You know, we had a state system of vaccine access early on, and people probably have tried to forget this, but it didn’t work very well. You couldn’t get answers. You weren’t getting information, they weren’t communicating well. We didn’t use text messages well. So, all of the things that that relate to building systems that are grounded in connecting those with something as critical as a vaccine is something that I have a lot of direct experience with and would bring to Sacramento.  

Laura Wenus  

So, you brought up a couple of things that I want to zoom in on. I think that everybody wants to talk about recovery. This has been and continues to be an exhausting situation. It’s also been really inequitable, just exacerbating the problems that existed before COVID. What role do you see the state legislature playing in paving the way for an equitable economic and social recovery from the pandemic?  

Matt Haney  

You know, the pandemic really did expose so many of the inequities that exist in our state — the fact that we have tens of thousands of people who are living on our streets, that we have child poverty at the level we do, that we have essential workers who really had no option except to go into work and even put themselves at risk because they didn’t have access to sick pay or health care. These are things that, as we move through the pandemic still and hopefully soon out of the pandemic, that we have to both fix, with bold social policies, to make sure that there’s this much stronger social safety net that can protect everyone. And then we also have to recognize that there are people who are still being impacted. There’s, you know, there are hundreds of millions of dollars, likely in the billions of dollars, still, of rent debt. And some people still because of the pandemic are accruing rent debt. We have to make sure that the state fulfills that commitment to make sure that nobody who did the right thing, which was in many cases staying home and protecting themselves and others, is punished for it. And so, the state is going to have to step in in a very robust way, not only for rent debt, but for small business debt, for other types of ways that people really took this burden of confronting this pandemic — often, people who themselves were already very vulnerable, you know — onto their own shoulders. And the state thankfully is at a place where they’re seeing more revenues than ever. We are seeing the largest budget that we’ve ever seen in our state because there are people, particularly big corporations and billionaires who did very well during the pandemic. And, you know, the billionaires exponentially increased their wealth at the same time that most people were struggling. And so, we need to balance that out a bit to make sure that the folks who did take on a lot, shoulder a lot, of the burden of this pandemic economically are lifted up. And then that we create a much broader, robust social safety net where everyone has access to health care, where, in a situation like this, we are sending people monthly checks so they can protect themselves. Sick pay, things that really allowed stability in other places that have it, that we didn’t have that really put everyone at risk.  

Laura Wenus  

I’m glad you brought up health care because that’s where it was going to go next. It is a relevant issue here and you’re not alone in this race and supporting Medicare for All and pretty serious health care reform. What would you say distinguishes your stance and your policy ideas when it comes to health care? 

Matt Haney  

I’m definitely a supporter of Medicare for All. I think we need to take the profit motive out of health care. I think everyone should have guaranteed access to health care as a human right. It’s something I’ve believed for a long time and have fought for and have the support of the author of the Medicare for All bill in California, Ash Kalra, who wants me in Sacramento to help him get the bill passed. But you know, for me, I’ve been very involved in our response here in San Francisco on mental health and behavioral health, addiction. I think these are areas where I really have firsthand leadership experience.  

I was one of the authors of Mental Health SF, making sure that we actually guaranteed true access to treatment for everyone in our city to mental illness or addiction. I’ve seen the gaps in our system and how they can be fixed and how we can hold hospitals and health care providers accountable to actually provide parity for mental health care. Someone comes in and has a mental illness or an addiction, they have to be given the same level of care, whether it’s a private or public provider, as they would if they had to had a broken arm. And too often that is not the case, and that’s going to take not only funding and additional beds and additional support, but it’s going to take accountability for the health care providers that are there now to make sure they’re actually following the law and providing that parity in treatment. So I think I bring, yes, a commitment to Medicare for All, and I think a level of determination and creativity to help us get there. But also, I’m ready to go to work on day one to make sure that when it comes to mental health and it comes when it comes to addiction and the really the epidemic of drug overdoses and fentanyl that I’m able to provide leadership right away and make some changes that hopefully, hopefully help people access care in our current system.  

Laura Wenus  

Can you perhaps give some examples of changes that you would make at the state level legislatively that either hold health care institutions accountable or provide more options for folks who are struggling?  

Matt Haney  

I’ve been very involved in the city and community paramedics and our street crisis response teams, you know, making sure that we have public health officials and professionals who are responding to people who have to have behavioral health needs and then entering them into a system of care within Mental Health SF that’s called the Office of Coordinated Care. The state — and you know, frankly, this is a broader problem — can make it hard for us to get people the care they need in some cases. That’s true on the street when there are barriers to allow[ing] paramedics and pharmacists to prescribe buprenorphine, which is the most effective treatment to opioids. There’s still far too many barriers to that, and they actually prohibit some folks from being able to prescribe that.  That’s a state law that needs to change that would allow us to get the treatments and care that people most need and increase access to it.  

We also have situations where the lack of accountability and oversight and real consequences for private providers or nonprofit providers who are supposed to be providing mental health care but are failing to do so. I think we need stronger forms of accountability and state laws so that we can track when they’re actually providing care for people with mental health needs or addiction needs, and then hold them accountable. You know, they get tremendous benefits from the state tax benefits to operate the way they do. And part of that comes with responsibility for when somebody walks in with an addiction or a mental illness, that they don’t just say, well, go to the county for that. Mental illness and an addiction, if you go to Sutter or Kaiser, they need to treat you and provide the same level of care that they would for a physical ailment or the same level of care that a public provider like the Department of Public Health or SF General would. And too often that’s not happening, and it’s on the state to provide that level of oversight, tracking and accountability to make sure that that care gets delivered.  

Laura Wenus  

I’m gonna pivot here a little bit and ask you something totally different. It’s my understanding that the resolution to rename certain schools, which has gotten quite a bit of attention during the pandemic, that happened while you were president of the school board and those issues really jumped into the spotlight. What do you make of how that whole controversy unfolded, given that these were things that you were working on long before they became so controversial?  

Matt Haney  

Well, it’s sad to see how it’s happened, and you know, there is obviously a need [for a] serious collaborative conversation about our school names and to make sure that they’re reflective of the diversity of our city and that they uplift all of our kids. I supported putting together a committee to do that because that was the kind of collaborative conversation with students and educators and families about how to go about doing that, and to do it with a lot of care and a lot of responsibility. We did that in a couple of cases. We renamed Fairmont Elementary to Dolores Huerta Elementary, and it’s a largely Latino school and there was a huge amount of support for that. We renamed Chinese Immersion School to Ed and Anita Lee. These are things that I think had broad consensus and support. I think that what the school board did — in appointing a committee who really did the opposite of that, was dismissive of input and evidence, and did it right in the middle of the pandemic, when obviously everything in that regard should have been paused — I think really was the worst way for them to go about it. And I think during a pandemic, when many of these schools weren’t even open, they should not have been talking about renaming the schools. They should have put all of that on pause.  

I think any conversation about renaming a school has to be done with a lot of care and a lot of consensus building. And that did not happen. So, I still support, you know, having a conversation at some point about how we can make sure our schools are named after more of our city’s heroes and leaders and and reflect the full diversity of our city and our kids. We should do that, but not in the way that they did at the time they did it. No way. And so, I think it’s really disappointing to see what has happened. And you know, our schools have huge challenges right now because they’ve been closed, because our students are still dealing with this pandemic. That has to be the overwhelming focus.  

Laura Wenus  

And are there any priorities that you have for how you would support schools if you become a state legislator?  

Matt Haney  

Absolutely. You know, I have served on the school board for six years. I’ve spent much of my career in schools. I have a master’s in education. I want to go up immediately and provide that level of leadership for our schools to do a few things: One is, they’re still at a very rocky time financially. They lost a lot of enrollment. We have to make sure that our schools are held harmless for the enrollment challenges they’ve had over the last few years so that they don’t lose funding because their average daily attendance has gone down. We do believe that in the coming years, we can bring that that back up, but right now they need to be able to have the support and stability so that they can get through this.  

The other thing that we need a much more robust pipeline and support for educators. It should be entirely free, debt-free, to go and become a teacher. We have to professionalize it. We have to fund our higher education institutions so that they can build out these programs. And then we have to make sure that we give our schools enough funding so that they can pay their teachers and educators enough to be able to live in the cities where they work. None of that is happening right now. And we increased teacher salaries pretty significantly while I was on the school board, twice. But it’s not enough. And especially, you know, with each year that goes by, you really need significant increases to get educators up to a place where they can survive here. You know, we’re going to have a conversation about larger affordable housing bonds, social housing. I think that the state can play a role in really deep investments in educator housing and teacher housing to make sure that we’re not only paying teachers more, but that we’re dealing with one of the biggest issues they have, which is where they can live.  

And then, you know, another thing that’s been very important to me and I’ve worked on a lot, is how we make sure our curriculum is reflective of the needs of the 21st century. We’re still teaching young people a lot of things that don’t necessarily line them up for the careers and jobs, the job market that they’re going to enter. And a universal A-G curriculum standard around computer science, which is something I’ve done here in San Francisco — every young person should take computer science and coding as they go through their school education. So, these are things that I think that I can also play a role in helping to advocate for higher standards and more relevant and connected educational curriculum for young people.  

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