WASHINGTON – Six days after his inauguration, President Biden vowed that his administration would see everything through the prism of racial equality, making it “the business of the whole government.”
On Friday, its $ 6 trillion budget began to deliver on that promise.
Throughout the president’s massive spending plan are dozens of programs amounting to tens of billions of dollars intended to specifically bolster the fortunes of blacks, Asians, tribal communities and other groups historically. underserved in the United States.
Mr. Biden is not the first president to spend money on such programs. And civil rights activists said the budget released Friday was insufficient in some critical areas such as student loans, where they believe even more money is needed to address a long-standing lack of fairness and unbalanced burden borne by minorities.
“This is going in the right direction, but it’s not a perfect document,” said Derrick Johnson, NAACP chairman, who said he was disappointed that the president’s budget did not call for cancellation of student debt, which falls disproportionately on black Americans. .
But he added that his organization was happy that the president “continues to make equity one of his priorities” through the budget.
The idea – of focusing special attention on the distribution of taxpayer dollars among racial groups – has never been approached so methodically as this year by Mr Biden, supporters say. Asked about the president’s equity plan on Friday, Shalanda Young, the president’s acting budget director, said her ministry had “built this” into the overall spending plan by giving “clear instructions to our agencies to they use this lens during their implementation. these programs. “
“It’s not something we should have to shout,” she said. “This is something that should be pervasive in the way the government does business.”
Much of the president’s vast budget directs spending that is not explicitly broken down by race: health care, education, the military, transportation, agriculture, retirement programs, and politics foreign, among other areas.
But in all of these programs, Mr Biden’s team have proposed increased spending in an effort to ensure that people of color and others who are often left behind get a greater slice of the overall pie.
Among the budget items, large and small, that are motivated by equity:
$ 3 billion to reduce maternal mortality and end racial disparities in maternal mortality.
$ 15 billion for “From highways to neighborhoods”, a program that would reconnect neighborhoods cut off by infrastructure projects developed decades ago.
$ 900 million to fund tribal efforts to expand affordable housing.
$ 936 million for an Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental and Economic Justice Acceleration Initiative.
$ 110 million for a thriving communities initiative to promote transportation equity through grants to underserved communities.
$ 39 billion for tuition grants to low- and middle-income students who historically attend black colleges and universities and those who serve other minority groups.
Mr Biden announced this kind of budget decision-making during his early days in office. In a speech announcing his “equity agenda,” the president said he was determined to go further than his predecessors when it came to considering groups that, in his own words, had been too often overlooked. .
“We need to open America’s promise to all Americans,” he said in the January 26 speech. “And that means we need to make the issue of racial equity an issue not just for one department.
This approach has aroused the ire of conservatives, who accuse the president and his advisers of pursuing a racist agenda against white Americans. Fox news made headlines accusing Mr. Biden of trying to “prop up the national divide with the ‘racial fairness’ push.” And The New York Post published an op-ed, titled “In Push for Woke ‘Equity,’ Biden Abandons Equality,” which accused the president of being “anti-American.”
A group called America First Legal, led by Stephen Miller and Mark Meadows, two senior associates of former President Donald J. Trump, this week won a preliminary injunction from a Texas judge against a Small Business Administration effort to Mr. Biden to prioritize grants from his $ 28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund to minority-owned businesses or underserved groups.
“This order is another powerful strike against the Biden administration’s unconstitutional decision to pick winners and losers based on their skin color,” the group said in a statement.
The president seems unlikely to back down. In a speech delivered a few days after his inauguration, he promised that “every part of the White House and every agency will be involved in this work, because advancing equity must be everyone’s job.”
Yet despite all of Mr Biden’s forceful rhetoric – he once pledged to no longer allow “a narrow and cramped view of this nation’s promise to spread” – his administration made little effort on Friday. to focus attention on this principle or to highlight details of how an equity-based approach would change the way the government spends its money.
- A new year, a new budget: The federal government’s 2022 fiscal year begins October 1, and President Biden has revealed what he’d like to spend, from there. But any expenditure requires the approval of both houses of Congress.
- Ambitious total expenditure: President Biden would like the federal government to spend $ 6 trillion in fiscal 2022 and total spending to reach $ 8.2 trillion by 2031. This would bring the United States to its lowest federal spending levels. highest since World War II, while running deficits exceeding $ 1.3 trillion over the next decade.
- Infrastructure plan: The budget outlines the president’s first year of investment in his U.S. Jobs Plan, which aims to fund improvements to roads, bridges, public transit and more, with a total of $ 2.3 billion. dollars over eight years.
- Family plan: The budget also addresses the other major spending proposal Biden has already rolled out, his U.S. Plan for Families, to strengthen the U.S. social safety net by expanding access to education, reducing the cost. childcare and supporting women in the labor market.
- Compulsory programs: As usual, mandatory spending for programs like Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare is a significant portion of the proposed budget. They increase with the aging of the American population.
- Discretionary spending: Funding for the individual budgets of agencies and programs under the executive branch would reach around $ 1.5 trillion in 2022, a 16% increase from the previous budget.
- How Biden would pay for it: The president would largely fund his agenda by raising taxes on businesses and high incomes, which would begin to reduce budget deficits in the 2030s. Administration officials said the tax increases would fully offset the projects. jobs and families over a 15-year period, which the budget request confirms. In the meantime, the budget deficit would remain above $ 1.3 trillion each year.
At a press conference to present the budget on Friday, Ms Young and Cecilia Rouse, the president of the National Economic Council of the White House – both of whom are black women – did not mention the president’s equity agenda. until a reporter asks him about the finish.
And the budget itself does not attempt to quantify the effect of following the president’s direction in making decisions based on a sense of racial fairness. There is no “equity” section in the budget. Aides did not send any fact sheets to reporters on Friday promoting “equity spending” in the president’s inaugural budget.
This left some of the public relations work to civil rights groups and other advocates, who quickly cited examples of spending that would benefit communities that had traditionally been left behind by previous presidents.
Sara Chieffo, chief lobbyist for the League of Conservation Voters, a pro-environment group, spoke of the Environmental Protection Agency’s $ 936 million Environmental and Economic Justice Acceleration Initiative, which aims to clean up the environment in underserved communities.
“The importance of this administration’s proposal to make the largest investment ever in communities of color and low-income communities that have been victims of environmental racism for decades cannot be overstated,” said Ms. Chieffo.
Marcela Howell, president of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, commended the president for investing in programs that specifically benefit black women.
“Congratulations also to President Biden for funding important programs aimed at addressing racial equity and economic security,” she said in a statement, adding that “we applaud the proposed investments in infrastructure and job creation, affordable child care and workforce training, education ”. and more.
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America issued a statement thanking Mr Biden for what the group called “significant investments” which it said would “help” address the maternal mortality crisis and its devastating impact in the lives of children. communities of color ”.