COVID-19

DC Statehood, OMB Director, Gun Reform & Tech CEOs Testify: March 25 Joint Center Roundup

Biden Administration

Funding for infrastructure: The Biden Administration may propose $3 trillion to spend on its Build Back Better jobs and infrastructure proposal, The Hill reports. The new package will reportedly be “split into two separate bills” including one focused on infrastructure (manufacturing and climate measures, broadband and 5G, and roads and bridges) and another focused on funding for pre-K programs, free community college tuition, child tax credits, and health care subsidies. The Joint Center’s 2017 report, 5G, Smart Cities & Communities of Color, found that 5G and Smart City technologies could reduce or expand the digital divide and other racial disparities depending on the choices by local leaders and wireless companies.

Major movement for gun reform: After mass shootings in Atlanta, Georgia and Boulder, Colorado, President Biden is calling on Congress to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and for the Senate to “immediately pass” two bills that have already been passed in the House to toughen the system for background checks. Congressional Black Caucus Members Lucy McBath (D-GA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), and Robin Kelly (D-IL) introduced one of the bills, H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act. The bill would require a background check for every gun sale or transfer. As of now firearms can be sold without a background check at gun shows, online, or person-to-person. The other bill, reintroduced by House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), is H.R. 1446, the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021. This bill would extend the review period of background checks from three days to ten days.

In 2020, nearly 44,000 Americans were killed by gun violence according to the Gun Violence Archive, including nearly 20,000 by homicide and 24,000 by suicide with a gun. The Center for Disease Control found that in 2019, American Americans accounted for over 10,000 of gun deaths (including 8,499 by homicide and 1,588 by suicide), and Whites accounted for nearly 25,000 gun deaths (including 3,193 by homicide and 20,202 by suicide). In 2017, the Joint Center released two reports on gun violence with Urban Institute and the Joyce Foundation. The report, Engaging Communities in Reducing Gun Violence, found that Black males account for over 56 percent of gun homicide victims and recommended mandated universal background checks for all gun sales (including those between private parties and by federally licensed dealers).

The American Rescue Plan supports women of color, Black children, and Black workers: The Biden Administration released an analysis asserting that relief provided by the American Rescue Plan creates an equitable recovery for women of color (who faced the brunt of economic losses during the pandemic). The $1,400 direct payments provide direct relief for the “more than 1 in 3 households, including half of Black and Latino households” struggling to pay for rent or buy groceries, the increased tax credits will cut child poverty levels for Black children by 52%, and relief to state and local governments reduces layoffs for state and local workers, the most critical employer of Black workers.

Principals committee meeting on advancing equity: Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice convened the first Principals Committee Meeting on Advancing Equity. Cabinet leaders and senior Administration officials shared their progress embedding “equity and racial justice at the highest levels of the federal government” and affirmed their commitment to “ensure that the President’s Executive Order leads to historic and ambitious work to advance equity.”

U.S. efforts to combat systemic racism: The Biden administration releases a fact sheet outlining what the administration is doing to address systemic racism. Priorities include advancing racial equity in the government; condemning and combating racism, xenophobia, and intolerance against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community; creating a Chief Diversity and Inclusion officer at the State Department, incorporating racial justice into U.S foreign policy goals; and nominating a U.S. Representative to the committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (full summary here).

Statement by President Biden on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: President Biden speaks to thedamaging legacy of slavery and our treatment of Native Americans and commits to “doing the daily work of addressing systemic racism and violence against Black, Native, Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and other communities of color.”


The Hill

The Senate and the push for DC statehood: CNN reports that the House is “expected to pass [a] bill” to make Washington, DC a state after the House Oversight Committee held a hearing on the issue on Monday. The District, which has a population that is larger than that of Wyoming and Vermont and comparable to that of Alaska and North Dakota, does not have representation in the U.S. Senate. Statehood for the District (which is 46 percent Black) could start to address some of the Senate’s diversity problems. Currently, African Americans account for 13.4 percent of the U.S. population, but only three 3 percent of U.S. Senators and 2.9 percent of U.S. Senate top staffers who serve as chiefs of staff, legislative directors, communications directors, or full committee staff directors.

Tech CEOs testifying before the U.S. House today: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey will testify at the virtual joint hearing entitled “Disinformation Nation: Social Media’s Role in Promoting Extremism and Misinformation.” The hearing will be hosted by Energy and Commerce Committee, Communications and Technology Subcommittee and Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, and will take place on Thursday, March 25 at 12pm ET. In anticipation of the hearing the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights submitted this letter to the committee flagging major civil rights issues, and calling on Congress to press tech companies to conduct independent civil rights audits. Joint Center President Spencer Overton, who has written extensively on online disinformation and civil rightstestified before the committee on the topic last year.

Louisiana special election to replace Richmond heads to runoff: The race for Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District seat, formerly occupied by Congressman Cedric Richmond (D) (now President Biden’s top aide) is heading to a special election between state Sen. Troy Carter (D) and state Sen. Karen Peterson (D). Democrats have held the seat since 1891, aside for one term from 2009-2011, and the winner of the runoff will be a favorite for reelection in the future.

CBC Members push for ban on menthol cigarettes: Former Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass (D-CA) supports a ban on menthol as it targets the Black population and “increases death.” Other members of Congress and advocates urge the Biden administration to support a ban on menthol cigarettes and prioritize reducing health disparities in the Black community.

CBCF release second issue of a multidisciplinary public policy journal: The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc. (CBCF) release Africa-America 2021: Re-envisioning Liberation for the Global Black Diaspora, a second edition journal focused on “scholarship and perspective that chart course for the future of Black leadership and advocacy and captures the spirit of modern Black movements.”


Appointments

Black organizations continue to push for Shalanda Young for OMB Director while Senator Duckworth withdraws her ultimatum: The Senate confirmed Shalanda Young as deputy budget director of the Office of Management and Budget with a 63-27 vote. However, many are still pushing for her to lead the office as director after Neera Tanden withdrew her nomination. The Joint Center and 28 other Black organizations sent a letter to President Biden urging him to nominate Ms. Young to be OMB director. Congressional Democrats—including Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus—are also urging President Biden to nominate Shalanda Young to the cabinet position. Ms. Young served as a staff director of the House Appropriations Committee, and would be the first Black woman to serve as OMB director.

Earlier this week, Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) originally told reporters that she wouldn’t vote for any of Biden’s non-diverse nominees until he appointed more Asian Americans to his cabinet. The OMB director is the only position in Biden’s cabinet without a nominee, and the leading AAPI candidate for the position (who is reportedly supported by Duckworth) is Nani Coloretti. (There are two other AAPI cabinet members—Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai). Senator Duckworth and Senator Mazie Hirono (who joined in with the same ultimatum) have since met with the White House and based on conversations said they would continue to support Biden’s nominees.

Robert “Monty” Wilkinson appointed as the Director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA). Mr. Wilkinson previously served as Acting Attorney General as Merrick Garland was awaiting Senate confirmation for his current role as Attorney General. Mr. Wilkinson previously served as the Director of EOUSA from 2014 to 2017.

Biden to appoint Black US Attorneys in New York: President Biden is reportedly going to nominate Damian Williams, who could be the Black man to run the Southern District of New York in Manhattan and Trini Ross, who would be the first Black woman to head the Western District in Buffalo. On Tuesday, Sen. Chuck Schumer said he was recommending Mr. Williams and Ms. Ross to President Biden, making it likely they will be nominated for the positions. (See also Bloomberg and Financial Times)

Biden appointed Dalia Batuuka as Special Assistant for Advance in the Office of the Secretary at the Department of Transportation. She previously served as an Advance Associate for the Biden for President campaign and as a Political Coordinator for Theresa Greenfield for Iowa.


Economic Policy

Unemployment jumps again: Initial weekly unemployment claims jumped to 770,000 for the week ending March 13, and remain higher than the pre-pandemic record high of 695,000 set in 1982.

Praise, yes, but also pay: A policy manifesto for frontline workers calls for better pay, protections, and worker power, noting that Black and other workers of color are overrepresented in these low-paying, essential jobs.

Closing the wealth gap: National Urban League President Marc Morial and Schott Foundation for Public Education President and CEO John Jackson call for a $10-12 trillion racial equity stimulus package to close the Black-White wealth gap. The wealth of a typical Black middle-class family was $13,024 in 2016 compared to $149,703 for White families.

New series on working women: Noting that 2.3 million fewer women are in the labor force today than at the start of the pandemic, the Southern Education Foundation is launching a series exploring factors holding women back in the workforce. Black women’s labor force participation rate is almost 10 percent lower than before the pandemic.

Union-owned bank backs commission to study reparations: Amalgamated Bank, the largest union-owned bank in the U.S., announced its support of H.R. 40, a bill that “would create a commission to study potential reparations for Black Americans.”


Tech Policy

Broadband is infrastructure: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) says broadband must be at the center of any infrastructure or relief package Congress passes this year. The chairman of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee is calling for accountability for internet service providers that are subsidized by federal funding in order to expand broadband access and affordability.

Democrats take on the digital divide: Closing the digital divide will be a major objective of the next major infrastructure package, Democrats promise, including House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC). Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have proposed a measure to authorize more than $109 billion to expand broadband access nationally, including $80 billion for building new or expanding existing networks.

Broadband’s selective reach14.5 million Americans lack access to fixed, wireless broadband, FCC data show. The Pew Research Center finds that 44 percent of those earning less than $30,000 a year lack a home broadband subscription compared to 8 percent of those earning $75,000 or more. Cost is a primary reason many Black families do not have high-speed home internet—both in metropolitan and rural communities.

A growing movement: Next Century Cities, a nonpartisan group committed to improving access to broadband, is calling on the Biden administration to take the “opportunity to reshape broadband for decades to come.” Recommendations include prioritizing internet access and creating job opportunities for Black and other communities of color to build out the country’s technology infrastructure.

Utility subsidies should include broadband: Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) introduced a bill to expand affordable broadband in federally subsidized public housing. Co-sponsored with Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-MO), the bill calls for the government to include broadband as a subsidized utility to families living in government-assisted housing.

Digital redlining in Baltimore: More than 90 local elected officials in Baltimore, including six state legislators, are calling for the FCC to intervene against “digital redlining,” in which wealthier communities access cheaper and faster internet service while low-income communities have inferior or no coverage. A disproportionate number of Black and other people of color live in the 40 percent of Baltimore households lacking wired internet.

Speed matters: A Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing on federal efforts to expand broadband access focused on the inadequacy of broadband speeds as a key element of the nation’s digital divide. The speed of an internet connection is vital because it can determine what types of activities people can do online. Dr. Christopher Ali, associate professor in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Virginia states that the FCC’s current definition of broadband (25/3 Mbps) is “woefully inadequate” for a family of four members who all need to work online.

Diverse hiring can reduce bias: The ousting of two prominent artificial intelligence (AI) experts at Google has intensified concerns about the lack of diversity in tech, and its correlation with racially discriminatory algorithms used in facial recognition, hiring, and other technology.

Bias perpetuated: Bias and discrimination in the design and deployment of AI are exacerbating inequities in COVID-19 vaccinations, starting with racial biases in clinical decision-making that shape AI. New legal protections for Black people and other marginalized groups are needed to protect against new forms of hiring discrimination from AI tools, researchers argue.

Privacy protections expand: California added more data privacy protections for state residents. Changes covered in the new regulations include making it easier for consumers to opt out of the sale of their information.

Platforms v. the people who study them: A legal standoff is brewing regarding data scraping and other practices that researchers use to study social media. The practices are often deemed in violation of social media companies’ terms-of-use policies. Academics use these methods to uncover discrimination in online ads or to study fake news and misinformation. Many tech companies do not allow researchers or third-party groups access to any internal or proprietary data.

It’s back: Brookings notes that Section 230 is back on the agenda. The act protects online platforms from liability for illegal content on their sites. Among the issues: How to limit hate speech and white supremacy without further limiting marginalized groups fighting for social, economic, and racial justice. Spencer Overton, President of the Joint Center, has argued that Section 230 be reformed and that Congress should explicitly state that Section 230 does not provide a defense to federal and state civil rights claims arising from online ad targeting.


Future of Work & Learning

Apprenticeships will be key: A modernized and expansive apprenticeship system is critical for laid-off workers and young people without college degrees. The National Apprenticeship Act, spearheaded by U.S. House Education and Labor Committee Chair Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA), is estimated to create nearly one million apprenticeship opportunities.

A quick path to a job or more debt? Don’t overlook the unintended consequences of fast-tracked student aid and job training, says New America’s Wesley Whistle, including routing students, especially Black and other students of color, into unproven training and certification programs that lead to low-paying jobs.

School reforms alone aren’t enoughEducation disparities are widening as a result of neighborhood segregation, Cambridge Day reports. Nationally, roughly two-thirds of Black and Latina/o students are in districts with remote learning while 70 percent of White students are in districts with in-class learning. Inequitable allocations of resources and finances, such as equipment to support online learning, make varying school plans worrisome “when looking at the digital divide between districts.”


COVID-19

States’ vaccine gaps: As of March 24, a Bloomberg tracker shows that a smaller percentage of the Black population has been vaccinated than White or Asian American populations in most of the 42 states, D.C., and two cities being tracked.

Vaccine resistance, really? Counter to perceptions, Black people are not more reluctant to get vaccinated. A recent poll shows that Black people are as likely to intend to get vaccinated or have done so already (73 percent) as White people (70 percent). Instead, address health care access disparities to increase vaccination rates, NPR reports. In an effort to combat any remaining vaccine resistance in their communities, Black clergy and other faith leaders of color are getting vaccinated at media-friendly public events.

Reopening schools gets easier: New CDC guidelines reduce recommended social distancing in schools from six feet to three feet, adding momentum to the push to reopen schools.

Another unequal cost of COVID-19: Schools in low-income communities are bearing a heavier financial burden in reopening, from costs of COVID testing and new ventilation systems to hiring more staff to meet social distancing guidelines.

A silver lining in remote learning: Despite the challenges of remote learning, the disruption of traditional education could improve quality and bring more equity. The virtues of virtual learning include reducing the disproportionate rate of Black student suspensions and other disciplinary actions and greater collaboration with parents.


Political Studies

March 23 report card on top staff diversity of newly-elected Members: As of March 23, the Joint Center’s report card tracking top staff hires by each new Member in the 117th Congress illustrates that 209 of 213 (or 98.1 percent) of the possible positions have already been filled. Of Members who have hired all three top staff positions, so far Alex Padilla (D-CA) leads in the Senate and Marilyn Strickland (D-WA) leads in the House for hiring diverse staff in comparison to the diversity of their districts or states. Those at the bottom of the lists are Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) and Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-NM). Of the top staff hired by new Members, so far 24.9 percent are people of color, and 5.7 percent are African American. People of color account for 40 percent of the U.S. population and African Americans account for 13.4 percent of the U.S.

Hill diversity starts early: The lack of diversity and racial representation among staff on Capitol Hill extends to interns. Between April and September 2019, only 6.7 percent of paid interns were Black and 76.3 percent were White.

Undue FBI attention: Activists are demanding President Biden deal with policing and surveillance of Black activists as part of his racial equity agenda. They cite the criminalization by the FBI of groups involved with the Black Lives Matter movement while minimizing the growth of White nationalist and other extremist groups.

Warnock calls for action on voting rights: Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) devoted his first speech from the Senate floor to states’ voter suppression efforts. Warnock urged Congress to pass voter reform legislation he co-sponsored and voting rights protection legislation named in honor of the late Rep. John Lewis.

Georgia gives some ground: Republican leaders in Georgia announced they would drop their call to eliminate no-excuse absentee voting and voting on Sundays from their proposed changes to election laws. They will retain other restrictions on the use of absentee and provisional ballots, however.


Movement Building

Color of Change issues a petition urging Amazon to stop selling their facial recognition software to ICE, as it “would increase the number of dangerous interactions between Black people and ICE’s law enforcement agents.”

Black Voters Matters hosts a “GA Week of Action” to protect Georgia Voters and urge corporations to amplify their commitment to equity and justice.

Goldman Sachs pledges another $500 million through its Launch with GS initiative to support minority-owned businesses.

National Digital Inclusion Alliance introduces their new Emergency Broadband Benefit webpage to help households understand the federal broadband subsidy. The webpage includes resources on outreach guidance, a list of definitions and commonly used terms, and answers to frequently asked questions.

Southern Echo hosts a free water distribution in Jackson, Mississippi.


Events

Upcoming events include “Freedom and Justice: LGBTQ+ In Ghana” (Black LGBTQIA + Migrant Project, March 25); “Women’s Empowerment Webinar – THE POWER OF 3 LEADERSHIP” (NCNW, March 25); “The State of the 50+ Entrepreneur” (AARP and Federal Reserve Bank of New York, March 30); “Here To Stay: Black, Latina, and Afro-Latina Women in Construction Trades Apprenticeships and Employment” (Chicago Women in Trades, Institute for Women’s Policy Research); “Who Gets to Learn from Failure?” (Aspen Institute, April 8).

Last week, events were held by Brookings InstitutionCenter for American ProgressKnight FoundationRainbow PUSH CoalitionThird Way, and the Urban Institute.


Podcasts

Dr. Katherine Wheatle on Changing the Narrative on Student Borrowers of Color (The Student Loan Podcast)

Future of Work Grand Challenge finalists: Top 15 ideas for an equitable economy (WorkingNation)

Policy Priorities for Women, by Women (Brookings Institution)


The Joint Center thanks the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Boulé Foundation, the Democracy Fund, Toyota Motor North America, Inc., UPS, and the Walmart Foundation for additional support that has allowed us to do some of our COVID-19 and Black Communities work.

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