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Contributed by The Joint Center
On March 6, the U.S. Senate passed the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, and the House approved the bill on March 10. President Joe Biden was to sign legislation before unemployment programs were to expire on March 14.
The relief bill, also known as the American Rescue Plan, includes a $300 per week boost to unemployment benefits through September 6, direct payments of $1,400 to many Americans, expansion of child tax credit, rental payment assistance, funds for vaccine distribution and testing, and financial support for state and local governments and schools.
Stimulus to cut poverty among Black children:
The stimulus will cut poverty among Black children by 50%. During the National League of Cities Conference, Vice President Kamala Harris acknowledged that relief distribution must be carried out equitably, as the pandemic only exacerbated the “the fissures and the flaws and failures” of the system. Harris said the American Rescue Plan will “lift one in three Black and Latino Americans who are living in poverty and lift them out of poverty.”
Democrats’ analysis of the proposal finds that the temporary $3,600 increase to the child tax credit will cut “child poverty among Black families by more than 50%” and view this legislation as “a fundamental rethinking of the way the country approaches child poverty.”
Relief for Black farmers:
The COVID-19 relief bill includes $10.4 billion to support agriculture, approximately half of which will assist disadvantaged farmers (Black, Hispanic, Native American and Asian American) farmers or ranchers with outstanding debt as of Jan. 1, 2021). The Washington Post noted that “about a quarter of disadvantaged farmers are Black,” and the bill will fund “grants, training, education and other forms of assistance aimed at acquiring land.” Black Belt Justice Center Executive Director Tracy Lloyd McCurty called it “the most significant piece of legislation with respect to the arc of Black land ownership in this country” and described it as “reparations” for Black farmers.
Equitable vaccine distribution in Black communities:
In a press briefing, the head of the White House’s COVID-19 health equity task force, Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, discussed equitable vaccine distribution and the importance of having vaccine distribution data disaggregated by race. During the briefing, she said “the share of vaccinations is significantly lower for Latino and non- Hispanic Black individuals, relative to their share of the general population” and they “have racial ethnicity data for only 53% of those who have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.”
Biden’s executive orders on equity for Black women:
On International Women’s Day, President Biden signed two executive orders promoting ender equity. The first order establishes a White House Gender Policy Council (it was formerly the White House Council on Women and Girls under President Obama and was disbanded under the Trump Administration), which the Council’s Co-Chair Jennifer Klein said intends to focus on “policies to advance equity for Black, indigenous and Latina women and girls of color.” The second order directs the Department of Education “to review all existing regulations to ‘[guarantee] an educational environment free from discrimination on the basis of sex, including discrimination in the form of sexual harassment, which encompasses sexual violence, and including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.’”
President Biden signs orders to expand voting access:
President Biden signed an executive order on the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday to “make it easier for eligible voters to register to vote and improve access to voting.” The executive order calls for Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act in honor of the late Congressman John Lewis.
The order calls for initiatives to improve access to voting for federal employees, active duty military and other voters overseas, and Americans in federal prison, directs federal agencies to increase voters’ access to registration and information on elections online, as well as through more regular distribution of vote by mail and voter registration applications, It calls for federal agencies to better coordinate with state governments on voter registration, as well as for updating the website Vote.gov.”
It calls for the passage of the For the People Act (H.R. 1),which is strongly supported by the Congressional Black Caucus.
It includes automatic voter registration, an end to partisan gerrymandering, reformations of federal ethics rules, and more.
CBC Chair Joyce Beatty said the importance of the bill “cannot be overstated.” The executive orders come after Georgia Republicans are pushing to pass “election integrity” bills that many say will suppress Black votes. The Georgia proposals would “limit mail-in voting access, add voter ID requirements and make it harder to get on or stay on the voter rolls.”
On March 3, the House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a bill that prohibits racial profiling, bans chokeholds and no-knock warrants, and much more. The bill now needs the support of at least 10 Republican Senators to pass the Senate. Former Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass (D-CA), who introduced the bill, is “confident that House members will be able to work with the Senate to get it passed.”
On March 10, the Senate confirmed Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-OH) in a 66-34 vote as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Biden Administration. She is the second Black woman to lead the department in American history.