Federal Agencies Announce Steps for Voting Engagement, Budget Reconciliation Package Negotiations & More: Sept. 30 Joint Center Roundup

Biden Administration

Federal government agencies announce new steps for voter engagement in response to President Biden’s executive order: The White House announced that more than a dozen federal government agencies are sharing next steps in response to President Biden’s call “to submit to Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice a strategic plan outlining the ways that the agency can promote nonpartisan voter registration and voter participation.” Moving forward, “agencies will further build out their capacity to get relevant information out to the public, help eligible voters better understand their opportunities for engagement, and facilitate participation in the electoral process.” Participating agencies include the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, Transportation, Treasury, Veterans Affairs, and more.

The White House also proclaimed September 28, 2021 as National Voter Registration Day, a day for all Americans to observe by “ensuring they are registered to vote, and thereby prepared to stand up for our democracy and the vitality and integrity of our elections.”

The two announcements come after a series of voter suppression laws were passed in at least 18 states including Georgia and Texas. As reported in a previous Joint Center roundup, earlier this year a leaked video from the group Heritage Action for America showed that the group drafted legislation for several states that have passed restrictive laws, and that Heritage Action has “a sentinel on our behalf give them the model legislation so it has that grassroots, from-the-bottom-up type of vibe.”

Nearly 4,000 Haitians deported: CBS News reports that the United States expelled “nearly 4,000 Haitians in nine days.” The Biden Administration reportedly “carried out the mass expulsions under an emergency pandemic-era policy known as Title 42 that was first enacted under former President Donald Trump.” Last week, several Haitian migrants attempted to seek asylum in the United States by entering through the Mexican border near Texas but were met with Border Patrol agents who horrifically whipped them. President Biden has since condemned the agents and called the situation “outrageous.” HuffPost reports that four Black immigration organizations—the Haitian Bridge Alliance, UndocuBlack Network, African Communities Together, and Black Alliance for Just Immigration—filed “a formal complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, demanding that the Biden administration halt its continued deportations of Haitian asylum seekers.”


The Hill

Negotiations continue on budget reconciliation package: This week, Congress continues tense negotiations over a funding package that may include up to $3.5 trillion in investments in paid leave, universal preschool, free community college, and permanent expansions of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. In mid-September, House members marked up a bill that includes many of these priorities (which are also included in President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda), but disagreements among Democrats over the size and scope of the investments threaten key programs necessary for an equitable recovery. For a more detailed summary that explains what’s at stake for racial equity, click here.

Update on infrastructure bill: The House is scheduled to vote on the Senate-passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill Thursday. However, The Hill reports that it’s unclear whether centrists Senator Joe Manchin (D-WW) and Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) will vote yes on the bill. Senate Democrats will need all votes by the Democratic Party to pass the bill.

House passes law to end crack-cocaine sentencing disparity: The Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act—co-sponsored by House Education and Labor Chair Bobby Scott (D-VA)—passed in the House with a 361-66 vote. The bill now heads to the Senate. So far, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) have signed on to support it. If passed, the bill “would end the disparity in sentences between crack and powder cocaine offenses” and its “retroactivity would be critical to achieving some justice for incarcerated drug offenders.” As reported in a previous Joint Center roundup, in 1986 then-Senator Biden crafted the bill that mandated “a five-year minimum sentence for trafficking in 500 grams of cocaine or 5 grams of crack,” making the sentencing for crack 100 times more severe than it is for cocaine despite crack being derived from cocaine. NPR Addiction Correspondent Brian Mann said “federal data show that law wound up primarily targeting Black and Hispanic Americans, who sometimes spend decades behind bars, even for nonviolent drug crimes.” In 2010, Congress narrowed the disparity from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1. Vox reports “an Asbury Park Press study found that Black usage of crack was only slightly higher than white usage, crack has been stereotypically associated with Black people while powder cocaine is thought of as a richer, whiter drug.” President Biden and the Department of Justice have endorsed the EQUAL Act.

Congresswoman Karen Bass announces campaign to be the next LA mayor: Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA), and former Congressional Black Caucus chair, announced that she’s running to be mayor of Los Angeles: “Our city is facing a public health, safety and economic crisis in homelessness that has evolved into a humanitarian emergency,” Bass said in a statement provided to ESSENCE. “I’ve spent my entire life bringing groups of people together in coalitions to solve complex problems and produce concrete change— especially in times of crisis. Los Angeles is my home. With my whole heart, I’m ready. Let’s do this— together.”

Upcoming congressional hearings include “Hurricane Ida and Beyond: Readiness, Recovery, and Resilience” (House Oversight and Reform, Oct. 5); “Homecoming: The Historical Roots and Continued Contributions of HBCUs” (House Education and Labor, Oct. 6); and “Strengthening Our Communications Networks to Meet the Needs of Consumers” (House Energy and Commerce, Oct. 6).


Movement Building

Black Voters Matter heads to North Carolina for its HBCU Blackout Tour to promote voter registration and provide redistricting education.

Causa Justa Just Cause launches their Oakland Tenant Rights Website to provide tips and tools to build tenant power, explain current Oakland tenant protections, and teach tenants how to use automatic letter-writing tools to support their rights.

Color of Change issues a petition to Reform the Filibuster and Pass the Freedom to Vote Act to protect Black voters’ access to the ballot.

The Commerce Department is seeking nominations to serve on the National Artificial Intelligence Advisory Committee the Subcommittee on Artificial Intelligence and Law Enforcement.

Open Society Foundation launches its Leadership in Government Fellowship program. The program was founded “to support former senior-level government staff in the United States who have recently left public service and have played a significant role in advancing social change from within government in the United States at the city, county, tribal, state, and federal levels.”


Events

Upcoming event: “HBCU Adult Learner Initiative” (Lumina Foundation, October 2).

Last week, events were held by Center for American ProgressEconomic Opportunities ProgramSisterReachSubcommittee on Diversity and Inclusion, and Third Way.

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