Kristen Clarke Testifies, CBC at White House: April 15 Joint Center Roundup

Biden Administration

Biden-Harris administration meets with Congressional Black Caucus: Several members of the CBC—including Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), Congressional Black Caucus Chair Joyce Beatty (D-OH), and Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Raphael Warnock (D-GA)—met with President Biden and Vice President Harris to discuss “economic empowerment, voting rights, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act,” COVID-19, and the American Jobs Plan (the Biden-Harris administration’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill). The groups also reportedly discussed the recent murder of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Centre, Minnesota, and requested that President Biden appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court if a vacancy opens and to “back tax credits to grocery stores to move into underserved communities” (via Reuters). This meeting marks the first time the CBC has held a meeting in the White House in four years.

Funding the infrastructure bill and supporting small businesses: The White House continues to “pressure lawmakers” to consider how underfunded infrastructure initiatives have left many states with poor broadband connections, roads, bridges, and waterways. President Biden’s proposal to finance the $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill (the American Jobs Plan) includes raising taxes on corporations from 21 percent to 28 percent, an approach of “little interest” to Republicans. The White House also released a fact sheet asserting that the bill will support small businesses through increased access to federal contracts, investments in financing and technical assistance programs, and access to private capital. The plan will also “create a national network of small business incubators and innovation hubs” and “create a new grant program through the Minority Business Development Agency” (summary here).

Biden-Harris administration addresses the Black maternal health crisis in America: Compared to non-Hispanic white women, Black women are roughly two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy complications. On Tuesday, President Biden and Vice President Harris recognize the state of Black maternal health as “the consequences of systemic discrimination” and call for “urgent solutions” that build a world that protects Black women’s safety, well-being, dignity, and lives “before, during, and after pregnancy.” Initial actions taken include implicit bias training for healthcare providers, extended postpartum coverage through the First Medicaid Section 1115 Waiver, and additional funds for maternal obstetrics care in rural communities that will help underserved Black mothers in rural areas (full summary here).

White House favors George Floyd Justice Policing Act instead of police oversight commission: White House Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice confirmed the Biden Administration will not move forward with a campaign promise to create a U.S. police oversight commission as it “would not be the most effective way to deliver on our top priority in this area.” Instead, the White House will shift all of its efforts to supporting the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which if passed would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants (summary here). The announcement comes in the wake of a Brooklyn Center, Minnesota police officer killing Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, and the trial for Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed George Floyd.

Reinstating fair housing regulations: The Biden Administration and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are working to reinstate rules for fair housing that were weakened under former President Trump. The rules, submitted to the Office of Management and Budget, include revisions to “the burden-shifting test for determining whether a given practice has an unjustified discriminatory effect and adds to illustrations of discriminatory housing practices found in HUD’s Fair Housing Act regulations” and will require “communities to identify and dismantle barriers to racial integration or risk losing federal funds.”


The Hill

Joint Center & other civil rights groups support Kristen Clarke to head Civil Rights at the Justice Department: The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law President & Executive Director Kristen Clarke was held on Wednesday. Clarke has received support from over 100 national organizations including the Joint Center, Center for American Progress, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Demand Justice, Demos, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NAACP, NAACP LDF, National Action Network, National Employment Law Project, National Urban League, Public Citizen, Vote Latino, and more.

Clarke has faced criticism from the GOP for strongly speaking out for police reform, but several police groups—including the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and International Association of Police—have endorsed her. In response to claims that she favors defunding the police, during her hearing on Wednesday Clarke said “I do not support defunding the police . . . . I do support finding strategies to ensure that law enforcement can carry out their jobs more safely and effectively and channeling resources to emotional health treatment and other severely under resourced areas.

The Joint Center was one of the organizations that submitted Clarke’s name to the Biden Administration through our Black Talent Initiative, and we support her enthusiastically. If confirmed, Clarke would be the first Black woman to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. In 1993, then-President Clinton nominated Lani Guinier for the position, but later withdrew her nomination after Republicans labelled her as a “Quota Queen” for her scholarship favoring cumulative voting systems, which are frequently used in corporate governance, as a remedy to protect minority voting rights (e.g., rather than a county drawing six majority White districts and one majority Black district for county commission, giving each voter seven votes and letting the voter give all seven votes to one candidate or spread them among different candidates regardless of where the voter lives in the county).

Potential political liability over gun control proposals: Several Democrats worry President Biden’s push to ban assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines will create a“potential political liability” in several Senate battleground states. Previous gun control restrictions aided Democrat’s loss of nine seats and control of the upper chambers in the 2014 mid-term elections. A Democratic strategist contends “no lawmaker who is weighing a Senate run is likely to vote” for proposals to ban assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines on the House floor.

Reparations commission bill moves forward: The House Judiciary Committee voted 25-27 in favor of H.R. 40, a bill to establish a 13-member commission to “study the effects of slavery and racial discrimination, hold hearings and recommend ‘appropriate remedies’ to Congress.” The legislation will now face a vote by the full House. If passed, it will move forward to the Senate.


Appointments

Biden nominates Kenneth Polite for Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division at the Department of Justice. Mr. Polite served in the Obama-Biden administration as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana. He has worked as a white collar defense attorney in Louisiana, New York, and Pennsylvania. The nomination is significant because currently there are no African Americans in the top three leadership positions at the Department of Justice, and the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division is a possible feeder position to be considered in future years to serve as Attorney General or Deputy Attorney General.

Biden nominates Todd Robinson for Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs at the Department of State. Mr. Robinson currently serves as the Director of the International Student Management Office at the National Defense University. From 2014 to 2017, he served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Guatemala.

Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley appointed as Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at the Department of State. Ms. Abercrombie-Winstanley previously served as the Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism and as the U.S. Ambassador to Malta. During her 30 years in the State Department, she was the first woman to lead a U.S. diplomatic mission in Saudi Arabia when she served as the U.S. Consul General in Jeddah.


Economic Policy

Unexpected jump in unemployed: Initial weekly jobless claims for the week ending April 3 reached 744,000. The pre-pandemic record for weekly unemployment claims was 695,000 set in 1982.

Caregiving hampers a return to work: Young Black women (13.1 percent) and Latinas (11.5 percent) were more likely to report care responsibilities as a reason they were out of work between April and November 2020, a new report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research finds.

Ideas for cutting Black unemployment: Labor market slack is one cause of high Black unemployment rates according to Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell. In March, 4.7 percent of Black workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher were unemployed, a full point higher than similar White Americans. AFL-CIO Chief Economist William Spriggs states, “If even the best-educated Black person doesn’t do as well in the economy, then that must be discrimination.”

Borrowing rates soar: Black students are one of the fastest growing groups of student loan borrowers, and student loan rates are higher in Black residential areas, according to the Federal Reserve.

College debt drives the wealth gap: Emory tax law professor and author of “The Whiteness of Wealth: How the Tax System Impoverishes Black Americans—and How We Can Fix It” Dorothy A. Brown highlights the disadvantages Black college students face with tuition and student loans, noting that disparities in student debt widen the overall Black-White wealth gap. She also notes that the tax code, which caps the student loan interest deduction at $2,500 a year, disadvantages Black borrowers who have an average debt of $53,000 four years after college versus White borrowers who have an average debt of $28,000.

One way to boost homeownershipDown payment assistance can narrow the homeownership wealth gap caused by discriminatory housing policies, the Urban Institute argues. Among Black renters earning less than 120 percent of area median income, nearly two-thirds have parents who are not homeowners. For White renters, the share is only 21 percent.

Banks must step up: Baltimore activists call on banks to do more for Black and Latina/o small business owners and families who wish to own a home. Residents in Baltimore’s Black neighborhoods received three times fewer housing and business loans than White neighborhoods between 2004 and 2016, a Baltimore Sun columnist notes.

State of small and medium-sized Black businesses: Facebook released a 51-page report, Global State of Small Businesses, showing how small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have fared during the COVID-19 pandemic and data on the disparities between Black-owned SMBs and SMBs owned by other racial groups. Key findings include that in the U.S., almost one-third (30 percent) of Black-led SMBs “indicated credit availability was the single most important challenge from the pandemic, compared to just 12 percent of White-owned SMBs” and that “Black-led SMBs were the most likely to report being closed, at 33 percent, compared to 13 percent for Asian-led SMBs, 23 percent for Native American-led SMBs, and 26 percent for Hispanic-led SMBs.”


Tech Policy

Broadband catch-up: Biden’s infrastructure plan includes $100 billion to get fast internet into every home. The U.S. currently lags other rich countries in speed, access, and affordability of internet services.

$6 billion for broadband subsidies: Senate Democrats, including Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Raphael Warnock (D-GA), introduced legislation to authorize an additional $6 billion for the Emergency Broadband Benefit program. The program will provide a monthly $50 benefit to workers laid off or furloughed due to COVID-19 and other assistance to ensure access to online services, including education, health, and employment services.

Watch and learn: A new documentary, Coded Bias, is essential viewing for learning about the sources and impact of algorithmic bias in artificial intelligence systems ranging from facial recognition and predictive policing to software that determines access to loans, housing, and public assistance.

Improving AI on campuses: After an investigation revealed that major universities were using race as a predictor of success, Texas A&M removed “race” from its algorithm assessing student risk. The investigation found that software disproportionately labeled Black students as “high risk,” resulting in steering them away from math and science studies.

US-Europe should align on AI: Congresswoman Robin Kelly (D-IL) testified before the European Parliament Special Committee on Artificial Intelligence, calling on the U.S. and Europe to align policies regulating AI. Pointing out that darker-skinned people are among those likely to be inaccurately identified by AI, Congresswoman Kelly stressed the need to prioritize civil rights issues when developing and implementing AI systems.

Trump’s Twitter case proves moot: The Supreme Court voided a lower court ruling that prevented former President Trump from blocking people on Twitter while he was in office. The Supreme Court held that the case is now moot, though Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that questions posed by the case could be taken up by the Court in the future.


Future of Work & Learning

Cities, help your own first: Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program Director and Vice President Amy Liu calls on cities to prioritize economic development that benefits current residents rather than luring workers from elsewhere to relocate, noting that majority-Black neighborhoods remain undervalued and under-resourced and Black workers are less likely to be able to work from home (20 percent) than White workers (30 percent).

Frontline worker help: The National Employment Law Project outlines how local governments can improve conditions for frontline workers, including emergency premium pay, a permanent right to paid sick leave, and anti-retaliation protections for workers who report job conditions.

Women in hard hats: Black and other women of color are gravitating to the construction trades, including carpentry, metal work, and plumbing. Black, Latina, Asian, and mixed-race women compose 45 percent of women in the trades, compared to 38 percent of the overall female labor force, according to the National Center for Women’s Equity in Apprenticeship and Employment.

21st century Louisville: Louisville could become a stronger hub for jobs in artificial intelligence and the data economy while also achieving greater inclusiveness and equity in employment, a Brookings report argues. Black workers are under-represented in Louisville’s data economy relative to its peer cities.


COVID-19

Racism as a public health threat: CDC Director Rochelle Walensky announced plans to focus COVID-19 funding on mitigating racial health disparities, citing racism as a “public health threat.” She also announced the launch of “Racism and Health,” a new web portal. Although Black people die of the coronavirus at higher rates than other racial groups, vaccination rates are 1.7 times higher for White people.

Black people’s views on COVID-19: According to a new Black Futures Lab survey, COVID-19 vaccination hesitancy among Black people has decreased since 2020 (although remains high among younger adults and women), and Black people under age 50 feel most affected by the economic fallout of the pandemic.

It could have been worse: Eviction bans, rental relief funding, and housing advocates and organizers are credited with preventing a national eviction crisis during the pandemic. A nationwide moratorium on evictions has been extended to June 30, 2021.

Rural vaccine rates top urban rates: A greater share of rural (39 percent) than urban or suburban (31 percent) residents has received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Sixty-four percent of Black rural adults say they have either received the vaccine or intend to do so. However, Black rural residents are less likely (53 percent) than their White counterparts (69 percent) to say their community has enough vaccination locations.


Political Studies

Dems push to diversify campaign staff: Democrats in Congress are concerned over the lack of diversity among campaign staff before midterm elections. Democratic campaign operatives cite the need to have diverse campaign staff to appeal to the diverse coalition of voters the party relies on to win elections.

Freshman senators hire the most diverse staff: Joint Center President Spencer Overton called out the two new Georgia senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock for hiring staff that reflects the diversity of America. Two-thirds of Senator Ossoff’s staff (including his legislative director, who is Black) are people of color compared to just over 11 percent overall in the Senate. Four of Warnock’s top five aides, including his legislative director and communications director, are Black.

Black women and voting rights: Georgia STAND-UP CEO Deborah Scott, Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda Executive Director Helen Butler, and New Georgia Project CEO Nsé Ufot—all Black woman leaders of civil and voting rights organizations—discuss the role of Black women in the voting rights movement and the backlash their work spawned in Georgia.


Movement Building

Color of Change issues a video campaign demanding fair compensation and educational opportunity for Black student-athletes through the College Athletes Bill of Rights.

National Urban League announces Comcast’s $3 million investment in the Urban Tech Jobs Program, a training program that recruits unemployed and underemployed adults, provides workshops focused on job readiness and personal resiliency, and offers certification coursework and paid work experiences.

The Advancement Project releases We Came to Learn: A Call to Action for Police-Free Schools, a report examining “policing practices in America’s public schools and their historical roots in suppressing Black and Latino student movement and the criminalization of Black childhood.”

The FCC’s Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment announce their FCC ACDDE Tech and Communications Diversity Opportunity Symposium and Virtual Fair. The symposium and fair “will provide a wide range of information and resources for Diverse Communications Businesses (DCBs)” and “highlight financial support programs and initiatives, educational, training and apprenticeship programs in local, state and federal government agencies as well as in the private sector.” The fair will take place on Wednesday, April 28, and registration will close on Tuesday, April 20.

The Southern Poverty Law Center releases “Helping Your Child With a Disability Get a Good Education,” an informative guide for parents and caregivers raising children with disabilities in the education system.


Events

Upcoming events include “Climate Justice is Racial Justice” (Black to the Future Action Fund, April 15); “Teacher diversity and student success: Why racial representation matters in the classroom” (Brookings Institution, April 19); “Gig Workers and Propositions” (New America, April 19); “Unequal power sabotages workers’ ability to protect themselves from injury, illness and death on the job” (Economic Policy Institute, April 20); “Building an Employee Recognition Program with Digital Credentials” (Credly, April 28).

Last week, events were held by Brookings InstitutionCenter for American ProgressNew AmericaPoor People’s CampaignThird Way, and the Urban Institute.


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