COVID-19

Democrats Prepare to Pass Biden Stimulus: Feb 3 Joint Center Roundup

Biden Administration

Democrats prepare to pass Biden stimulus: Senate Democrats moved forward with a procedural vote to allow them to pass President Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic rescue plan with a simple majority rather than requiring 60 votes to defeat a filibuster. The resolution passed with a 50-49 vote with one Republican member (Senator Patrick Toomey (PA)) not present. The vote comes after the GOP proposed a $618 billion package and met with President Biden earlier this week. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) told The New York Times that President Biden emphasized the need for a “big bold package” and “told Senate Republicans that the $600 billion that they propose was way too small” to avoid being “mired in the Covid crisis for years.” The House “followed the Senate to begin debate on the budget resolution, voting 216-210, with no Republicans joining in support.” Biden may not be able to sign the bill into law until early to mid-March, however, according to Reuters (linked above).

For details on what’s in the $1.9 trillion stimulus package, read the Joint Center’s previous roundup.

Housing civil rights restored: President Biden plans to restore the 2013 disparate impact housing rule, which allows people of color and other disenfranchised groups to bring legal action against those who practice discriminatory housing practices. The Trump Administration weakened the rule.

Black organizations on Biden racial equity orders: After President Biden passed additional racial equity orders, Congressional Black Caucus Chair Joyce Beatty (D-OH) commending President Biden by saying “words matter and so do actions, and he’s taken great actions.” National Action Network also released a statement commending President Biden for sending a “significant signal” that his Administration is working towards a more equitable America. For analysis of the racial equity orders, see Brookings.

Senator Warnock receives committee assignments: US Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and US Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA) were both appointed to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. This is the “first time in history for two African Americans to serve simultaneously on the panel.” Warnock was also assigned to four other committees: Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; Commerce, Science, and Transportation; Aging; and the Joint Economic Committee.

65% of Americans think Black Americans will gain influence under Biden: New Pew data shows that “nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults (65%) say Black people will gain influence in Washington with Joe Biden taking office,” 14% say Black Americans will “lose influence,” and 20% say Black Americans “will not be affected.”

Black America’s next steps-strong institutions: “Any battle plan for progress must incorporate building and fortifying Black institutions,” said Joint Center Spencer Overton in an article in USA Today on the next course of action Black America’s progress after a year of turmoil.


The Hill

Fudge testifies: Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-OH), President Biden’s nominee for secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, testified before the Senate committee last week. This week, Congresswoman Fudge is calling for more funds from Congress to help avert a looming eviction crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’s recent Census Bureau survey analysis, 36 percent of Black renters reported being behind on rent from January 6-18.

Expanding voting rights: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced legislation to dramatically expand mail-in voting, allowing all registered voters to vote from home and enacting automatic voter registrations for all citizens with driver’s licenses or permits. The Joint Center also called for accessible vote-by-mail systems in the Protect Our Democracy section of the Pandemic Relief for Black Communities report.


Appointments

Biden appoints Shalanda Young as Deputy Director in the Office of Management and Budget: Young has served 14 years as a staff member of the House Committee on Appropriations, where she made history as the first Black woman to serve as the Democratic Staff Director. She earned her master’s degree in Health Administration from Tulane University.

Biden appoints Jewel H. Bronaugh as Deputy Secretary at the Department of Agriculture: Bronaugh previously served as the 16th Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. She also previously served as the Agriculture Dean at Virginia State University, the Executive Director to VSU’s Center for Agriculture Research, Engagement and Outreach, and the Virginia Executive Director of the USDA Farm Service Agency. She will be the first African American to fill the role as Deputy Secretary.

Who represents Black vets? A coalition of Black veterans’ groups has called on the Biden administration to increase Black representation in senior leadership at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, citing the potential positive impact on the nation’s more than 2.5 million Black veterans.


Economic Policy

Unemployment dips: The latest weekly initial unemployment claims totaled 847,000, still higher than the pre-pandemic record of 695,000 set in 1982. Another 427,000 workers filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), bringing total claims to 1.3 million.

A pay raise for Black workers: Noting that low wages are particularly harmful to Black workers and other workers of color, the Economic Policy Institute calls on Congress to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour. President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan includes increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Narrowing pay gaps for women: The Urban Institute urges policymakers to root out structural racism in early childhood education, where nearly 40 percent of workers identify as Black or Latina/o.

Good jobs for Black and Latina women: Black and Latina women earn just half of what White men earn in New Orleans, and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research recommends policies to remedy the gaps.

A lifeline for women of color: In 2018, 21 percent of Black women benefited from the Earned Income Tax Credit and the National Women’s Law Center explains how the Biden administration plans to expand access for childless workers and younger workers.

Americans going hungry: The Biden administration’s emergency relief proposal would reduce growing hunger hardship, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) finds. In a recent Census Bureau survey, 19 percent of Black adults and 21 percent of Latina/o adults reported that their households did not get enough to eat.

The safety net works but it’s frayed: Noting that the poverty rate fell by 25 percentage points for Black people and 27 percentage points for Latina/os between 1970 and 2017, CBPP urges policymakers to strengthen economic security programs such as housing vouchers, tax credits, and food assistance.

Owning up: President Biden acknowledges the role racism has played in housing injustices, a historic and consequential admission notes the Urban Institute.

A playbook for southern Black counties: A new report offers policy recommendations to help southern states rebound socially and economically from COVID-19. Southern states include 225 of the 229 U.S. counties where the Black population is greater than the national average.

Improving Black Belt economies: Political scientist Veronica Womack outlines how to expand access to regional economic development opportunities in Black Belt counties within the Delta Regional Authority.

$100 million in and for equity: ServiceNow launched a $100 million racial equity fund to support entrepreneurship, homeownership, and community revitalization in Black communities in 10 U.S. cities including Boston, Chicago, Houston, and San Diego.

Black Businesses continue to face challenges: A new survey reveals the continued disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on small business owners of color. Of the 300 Black business owners surveyed, more than 52 percent reported COVID-19 had a negative overall effect on their business, 29 percent reported temporary business closure in the next three months, and 18 percent are likely to permanently close their business.


Tech Policy

Joint Center research shapes House tech bill: Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09) called for public comment on the draft of her upcoming bill, the Civil Rights Modernization Act of 2021. The bill would amend Section 230 of the Communications Act to make explicit that platforms that target housing, employment, financial services, and similar ads away from communities of color are not exempt from civil rights laws. The centerpiece of the draft legislation incorporates a solution proposed in the Joint Center law review article State Power to Regulate Social Media Companies to Prevent Voter Suppression. Joint Center President Spencer Overton, who wrote the law review article, stated that the draft bill is “thoughtful and tailored [and] addresses a real problem in advancing platform accountability.”

Disconnected students: Black students make up 19 percent of digitally disconnected students but only 15 percent of the K-12 population, according to a report on closing the digital divide in schools.

Achieving digital equity: The new Lewis Latimer Plan for Digital Equity & Inclusion by the National Urban League and other civil rights organizations offers sweeping policy recommendations—ranging from increasing broadband to increasing access to economic opportunities in the digital economy—to expand digital equity and inclusion for African Americans and other people of color. A 2018 NUL report found that only 2.5 percent of the 40,000 people employed by four major tech firms were Black.

Bringing opportunity home: A Black female scientist and nonprofit founder is creating a technology hub in Jackson, MS to introduce residents of the predominantly Black city to careers in technology.


COVID-19

Disclose vaccine distribution data by race: Despite higher COVID-19 death and hospitalization rates among Black people, only 20 states were reporting data on race when tracking vaccine distribution as of January 22, and even those states report major gaps in the data.

Vaccine disparities continue: Coronavirus vaccines are not reaching Black and Latina/os according to Kaiser Family Foundation, which examines data from most states that do track vaccination patterns by race and ethnicity. For example, in Mississippi, Black people compose only 15 percent of those vaccinated but 38 percent of COVID-19 cases and 42 percent of coronavirus deaths.

A “total disaster”: A start-up run by “college kids” with “minimal health care experience” has come under scrutiny for mismanaging a mass coronavirus vaccination site in Philadelphia, where Black people compose 44 percent of residents but only 12 percent of those vaccinated.

“Alarmingly low” vaccinations for Black Chicagoans: Chicago unveiled a plan to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates in Black and Latina/o neighborhoods. Only 1 in 53 Black residents has been vaccinated compared to 1 in 25 Chicagoans as a whole.

LA County too: Calls to prioritize vulnerable communities are growing amid concerns about growing inequities in coronavirus vaccinations in Los Angeles. Of the 4,000 Black health care workers in Los Angeles County, only one-third has received the vaccine and more than half have not requested it.


Political Studies

First Black Secretary of the Senate: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced Sonceria “Ann” Berry to be the 35th Secretary of the Senate. Berry has worked in the Senate for over 40 years and most recently served as Deputy Chief of Staff for Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Prior to her previous position, she held positions in the offices of Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), former Senator John Edwards (D-NC), former Senator Pat Moynihan (D-NY), and former Senator Howell Heflin (D-AL). Berry will be the first African American and the eighth woman to serve in this position.

Report card on top staff diversity of newly-elected Members: As of February 2, the Joint Center’s report card tracking top staff hires by each new Member in the 117th Congress illustrates that 187 of 210 (or 89.0 percent) of the possible positions have already been filled. Of Members who have hired all three top spots, so far Alex Padilla (D-CA) leads in the Senate and Marilyn Strickland (D-WA) leads in the House. Those at the bottom of the lists are Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ) and Rep. Jay Obernolte (R-CA). Of the top staff hired by new Members so far, 25.7 percent are people of color, and 5.9 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.

Congress diversifies: The number of Black legislators in the 117th Congress increased from 56 to 59.

A California first: Democrat Shirley Weber becomes the Golden State’s first African American secretary of state.

An opening in Boston: An opportunity for Boston to elect its first Black mayor has opened up with the nomination of Mayor Marty Walsh (D) to head the U.S. Department of Labor.


Movement Building

Color of Change issues a petition demanding Congress to pass the $15 federal minimum wage bill that reflects current cost-of-living adjustments and addresses the disproportionate impact the current minimum wage has on Black and low-income workers.

Ella Baker Center honors Black History/Future Month by inviting guests to share in open discussions and presentations during their monthly member meeting.

NAACP LDF President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn A. Ifillannounced the launch of the Marshall-Motley Scholars Program (MMSP), an “innovative scholarship program designed to produce a highly skilled cadre of racial justice attorneys committed to working in the American South.”

Operation Restoration started their spring semester of the College in Prison Program which offers students courses in sociology, philosophy, art history and expository writing

SisterReach presents a screening and panel discussion on “Grrrl Justice,” a short film examining how traumatic backgrounds attach young people to systems that criminalize them.


Events

Upcoming events include “The Flawed Juvenile Justice System That Sparked a National Outrage” (The Boston Globe, February 4); “Black Small Business Discussion with Senator Ben Cardin” (Small Business for America’s Future, February 5); “How Employers Can Train, Hire, and Retain Formerly Incarcerated Talent” (Urban Manufacturing Alliance, February 9); “First 100 Days: Do We Need a Stimulus?” (REMI, February 12); “America’s Broken Legal System” (Brennan Center for Justice, February 17); “How Impact Investors Can Use Policy Advocacy and Engagement to Advance the Common Good” (Urban Institute, February 18);

Last week, events were held by the Brookings InstitutionFirelight MediaInstitute for Women’s Policy ResearchKnight FoundationNational Urban LeaguePoliticoThe Boston GlobeThird Way, and the Urban Institute.


Podcasts

A Conversation With Dr. Miguel Cardona, President Biden’s Pick For Secretary Of Education (Connecticut Public Radio)

Hate Speech on Social Media with David Chavern (WashingTECH)


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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