President Biden plans to sign executive actions Tuesday aimed at increasing equity across the nation, a move the administration says is an early and significant first step in Biden’s efforts to dismantle systemic racism.
The measures seek to strengthen anti-discrimination housing policies that were weakened under President Donald Trump, nix federal contracts with private prisons, increase the sovereignty of Native American tribes and combat xenophobia against Asians and Pacific islanders weeks after the departure of a president who blamed the Chinese for the coronavirus pandemic.
A senior Biden administration official told reporters that the movement was part of a wider effort to infuse a focus on equity into everything the federal government does and that more actions — both executive orders and efforts to pass legislation through Congress — would be forthcoming.AD
In a memo on the measures, the administration pledged to work with Congress on legislation that increases funding for minority-owned small business, invests in historically Black colleges and universities, and triples funding for Title I schools.
Still, Tuesday’s efforts fall short of the large strides on equity that civil rights groups and activists have asked for as the nation confronts a racial reckoning that intensified in the final year of the Trump administration.
Reforming police and overhauling the criminal justice system are among the most urgent goals for many for these groups, as well as fighting voter suppression. Beyond that, many activists say they want Biden to put resources toward reducing disparities in educational and economic opportunities.AD.
Black Americans trail Whites on every economic measure, including wealth, income, employment and homeownership. The disparities have existed for decades, even when comparing workers with similar education levels. The gaps, economists say, stem in large part from government-sanctioned policies that continue to discriminate against Black people in lending, housing, education and criminal justice.
During his inauguration speech, Biden said one of his administration’s goals would be to dismantle systemic racism. He has long said a first step on that path is a Cabinet that “looks like America.”
Biden picked Kamala D. Harris as vice president, the first Black and Asian American woman to win a nationally elected office — although it remains to be seen whether Harris will play a large role in Biden’s efforts on racial equity.AD
“Her team has been fully a partner in our efforts to both formulate the policies and the steps that will be taken to implement them,” the senior Biden official said.
Biden has also nominated several African Americans to his cabinet. Biden’s defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, was sworn in Monday. Susan Rice, whom Biden has chosen to lead his Domestic Policy Council, has been focused on ensuring that efforts toward equity are integrated into the administration’s broader policies.
And Biden has nominated Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Homeownership has long been an important way for Americans to build wealth, but only 46 percent of Black families owned homes compared with 75 percent of White families in 2020, a gap has widened since 1976.AD.
Black voters resuscitated Biden’s campaign in the South Carolina Democratic primary, then were critical to his victories in Super Tuesday states. In the general election, Black voters favored Biden over Trump by a large margin.
That, some civil rights leaders suggest, creates something of an informal pact: Black voters would get Biden to the White House, and in return he would break the pattern that sees politicians court African Americans during the campaign but play down their agenda once they’ve won.
Strides in this area are not likely to come without conflict. Biden has already been criticized by some Republicans, who say the focus on equity in his inaugural address implicitly suggested his political opponents are racist.AD
“If you read his speech and listen to it carefully, much of it is thinly veiled innuendo calling us white supremacists, calling us racists, calling us every name in the book, calling us people who don’t tell the truth,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
And policies designed to increase housing equity were scaled back by Trump and remain an object of criticism by some Republicans.
Under Tuesday’s actions, the Department of Housing and Urban Development will reinstate a 2013 rule that codified a decades-old legal standard known as “disparate impact.”
That rule was aimed at barring the housing industry from enacting policies such as requiring tenants to undergo a criminal-background check and using artificial intelligence to predict creditworthiness that, while seemingly race-neutral, have an adverse effect on Black and Latino Americans.AD.
Civil rights attorneys say that applying the disparate-impact standard has helped reduce systemic racial inequalities. But some conservatives argue that this approach unfairly ties the hands of businesses, and the Trump administration changed the rule, saying it would free up businesses to “innovate and take risks without the fear they will be second-guessed through statistics down the line.”
The Trump administration also repealed regulations requiring communities to identify and address barriers to racial integration or risk losing federal funds. It argued that the regulations were too burdensome for communities and sucked up too many federal resources. Then-HUD Secretary Ben Carson criticized the Obama-era rule for forcing communities to find “anything that looks like discrimination,” rather than responding to actual problems.
Source: The Washington Post