From the first day in office and every day since, the Biden-Harris Administration has taken a historic approach to advancing racial equity, including directing every agency across the whole of the federal government to address the lasting impacts of systemic racism on Black communities. For generations, entrenched disparities in our society and economy, at times facilitated by the federal government, have made it harder for Black Americans to have a fair shot at the American dream. Centuries of injustice and decades of disinvestment in Black communities not only undermine the American promise of equal opportunity, but also keep our entire nation from reaching its potential.
Today, President Biden signed an Executive Order on the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Black Americans. This is just the latest action taken by President Biden and Vice President Harris to tackle systemic racism and make investments to rebuild our economy and our social safety net so all people, including Black Americans, can thrive. Already, the Administration has delivered generation-defining outcomes for Black Americans.
Economic Opportunity for Black Families and Communities. By signing into law the historic American Rescue Plan (ARP) and implementing robust regulatory reform, President Biden has helped Black Americans own and stay in homes. The ARP has expanded access to wealth creation through small business ownership in Black communities, and President Biden has directed agencies to use federal contracting authority to increase its procurement from small disadvantaged businesses, including Black-owned businesses, by 50%. Under President Biden, federal agencies are also now working to ensure that projects proposed for federal funding are reviewed for disparate impacts before they are awarded and that federal funding does not go to grant applicants with a record of racial discrimination. These transformative policies and programs include:
- Providing Immediate Relief to Black People and Families through the American Rescue Plan. The ARP provides cash relief directly to low- and middle-income Americans, and is projected to cut the Black child poverty rate by more than 50% this year and has already cut Black child poverty by 40.1%, lifting approximately 420,000 Black children out of poverty between June and July alone. In addition, the Plan increased Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits by 15% through September 2021. Through this Plan, the President has reduced food insecurity in Black households – which had been double the White household rate – between one-fourth and one-third since early July.
- Leveraging Federal Procurement to Narrow the Racial Wealth Gap for Black Entrepreneurs and Families. Recognizing that the Federal government spends more than $650 billion each year on purchasing goods and services, President Biden has directed agencies to use federal purchasing power to grow federal contracting with small disadvantaged businesses, including Black-owned businesses, by 50%, translating to an additional $100 billion over five years, and helping more Americans realize their entrepreneurial dreams.
- Extending a Lifeline to Struggling Small Businesses. The American Rescue Plan provided emergency grants, lending, and investment to hard-hit small businesses – including Black businesses – so they can rehire and retain workers and purchase the health and sanitation equipment they need to keep workers safe. This includes a Small Business Opportunity Fund to provide growth capital to main street small businesses in economically disadvantaged areas, including minority-owned businesses.
- Ensuring Black Homeowners Get Full Value for their Homes. In June, President Biden directed the launch of a first-of-its-kind interagency effort to address inequity in home appraisals and conduct rulemaking to aggressively combat housing discrimination. The effort, led by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia Fudge and Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice, is developing a set of policy recommendations and actions for President Biden to redress racial bias in home appraisals.
- Protecting Black Americans’ Access to Housing by Combating Housing Discrimination. Following President Biden’s Presidential Memorandum directing his Administration to address racial discrimination in the housing market, HUD published a rule in the Federal Register entitled “Restoring Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Definitions and Certifications” that requires HUD funding recipients to complete an assessment of fair housing issues, identify fair housing priorities and goals, and then commit to meaningful actions to meet those goals and remedy identified issues.
- Helping Black Americans Stay in their Homes. President Biden’s American Rescue Plan has helped Americans stay in their homes by providing emergency aid to cover back rent. In addition, the ARP helps struggling homeowners catch up with their mortgage payments and utility costs through the Homeowners Assistance Fund. And, it provided additional funding for families and individuals who are recovering from or at risk of homelessness.
- Assisting Black Land Owners in Resolving Title Issues. An estimated 60% of Black-owned land in the South is heirs’ property—property that passes through inheritance without a will and that, as a result, has historically rendered owners ineligible for USDA programs, including lending. In July, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rolled out the Heirs’ Property Relending Program, which primarily aids underserved communities, including Black Americans. The new program provides funds to assist heirs in resolving ownership and succession issues on farmland with multiple owners.
- Dismantling Barriers to Accessing Department of Agriculture (USDA) Programs and Services. The ARP provides funding for USDA to establish one or more equity commissions to address historical discrimination and disparities in the agricultural sector. In September, USDA began requesting nominations for membership on the Equity Commission Advisory Committee and Equity Commission Subcommittee on Agriculture. The Equity Commission Advisory Committee will advise the Secretary of Agriculture by identifying USDA programs, policies, systems, structures, and practices that contribute to barriers to inclusion or access, systemic discrimination, or exacerbate or perpetuate racial, economic, health and social disparities
- Ensuring that Federal Grants Don’t Support Discriminatory Activities. In June, the Department of Transportation (DOT) issued an Order requiring its offices to review the potential discriminatory impact of grantees’ proposed activities before awarding federal funds. Under the Order, the agency won’t award federal financial assistance until that is satisfactorily completed.
Ensuring Equitable Educational Opportunity in K-12 Schools and Higher Education. As we continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, President Biden has delivered the support necessary to enable every school to safely reopen for full-time, in-person instruction; accelerate academic achievement; address the mental health needs of students; and build school communities where all students feel they belong. At the same time, President Biden has worked to ensure equitable access to high-quality education for Black students. These policies and programs include:
- Historic Investments to Safely Reopen Schools and Address the Needs of Students. The ARP provided $130 billion to help schools safely reopen and address the academic, social and emotional and mental health needs of all students, with funding set-aside to address the needs of students disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, including Black students. The Administration’s efforts to encourage all schools to adopt the CDC’s recommendations on masking, vaccinations and other COVID-19 protocols, have been particularly critical to the safe reopening of schools in Black communities hit hard by COVID-19. In addition to funding the implementation of COVID-19 protocols, these funds are being used to hire counselors and social workers, provide tutors, establish and expand summer and after-school programming, and provide a wide range of supports that address the needs of Black students.
- Protecting Students from Funding Cuts. The ARP’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief program includes a first of its kind maintenance of equity requirement to ensure that high-poverty school districts and schools are protected in the event of future funding cuts. The Department of Education has provided resources and technical assistance to states and school districts as they implement this new requirement, which will ensure that school districts and schools serving a large share of students from low-income backgrounds will not experience disproportionate cuts, and that school districts with the highest poverty levels do not experience any decrease in state per-pupil funding below their pre-pandemic level.
- Historic Support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
- The ARP and other pandemic relief programs provided approximately $3.7 billion to HBCUs.
- Additionally, HBCUs received approximately $1.6 billion in debt relief to 45 HBCUs, including 13 public institutions and 32 private institutions.
- President Biden signed an Executive Order establishing the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Opportunity, and Excellence through HBCUs, which will create a government-wide approach to support the needs of HBCUs and the communities they serve and eliminate systemic barriers impeding HBCU participation in Federal programs.
- During HBCU week, President Biden named Tony Allen, President of Delaware State University, as Chair of the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs. The Board, established by the Carter Administration, is meant to advance the goals of the HBCU Initiative.
Improving Health Outcomes for Black Communities. Facing a once-in a century pandemic that highlighted and exacerbated pre-existing racial disparities in our health care system, President Biden took swift action to promote better health access and outcomes for Black families. The ARP lowered health care costs for millions of lower- and middle-income Black families and invested billions to promote equitable vaccine distribution and provide critical supplies to stop the spread of COVID-19. These policies and programs include:
- Lowering Health Care Costs. Millions of lower- and middle-income Black families enrolled in health insurance marketplaces saw their premiums lowered or eliminated as a result of the ARP. Nationwide, existing consumers saved an average of $67 per person per month on their premiums. These monthly savings were even higher in 20 states and the District of Columbia where existing consumers saved, on average, over $75 per month. In addition, millions of uninsured Americans gained coverage during the Administration’s 2021 Special Enrollment Period (SEP). Of those newly signing up for HealthCare.gov coverage who attested to race or ethnicity, 15% were Black Americans, up over 60% from 2019.
- Improving Black Maternal Health. The President and Vice President are also committed to improving maternal health outcomes, including addressing the unacceptably high rates of maternal mortality and morbidity that disproportionately impact Black mothers and families. In April, President Biden issued the first ever Presidential Proclamation on Black Maternal Health Week, calling on all Americans to recognize the importance of addressing the crisis of Black maternal mortality and morbidity. In addition, the President’s FY 22 budget request includes more than $200 million to bolster Maternal Mortality Review Committees, implement implicit bias training for health care providers, and create State pregnancy medical home programs, among other actions. It also includes $6 billion for the critical Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program to help vulnerable families put healthy food on the table and address racial disparities in maternal and child health outcomes. The Administration has also approved various Medicaid demonstrations to expand postpartum coverage, including in Illinois, which was the first state to provide full Medicaid benefits for 12 months postpartum (other states have expanded to six months postpartum coverage or expanded coverage to 10 months for those with substance use disorders). The ARP gives states an easier pathway to extend coverage for pregnant women from 60 days to 12 months postpartum; the Administration is working to encourage all states to take up this option so women can get the care they need to stay healthy.
- Ensuring an Equitable Pandemic Response. Nationwide, Black people have died from COVID-19 at 1.4 times the rate of White people. The ARP provided $160 billion for the vaccines, tests, personal protective equipment, and public health workforce needed to address the spread of COVID-19, an investment that is helping to drive down racial disparities in prevention and care. Due to the ARP and the President’s other investments in equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine, multiple studies show that the gap in COVID vaccination rates in Black Americans compared to Whites and Latinos has closed. Data show that more than 70% of Black Americans, 73% of Latinos and 71% of White Americans have received at least one shot, compared to 56%, 57%, and 65%, respectively, in May. Additionally:
- FEMA surged resources to vaccinate all eligible Americans, including by standing up 500 vaccine sites in underserved communities. These emergency measures have helped deliver community-based and culturally competent care. In fact, over 50% of vaccines administered at the federally-run community vaccination centers went to Black Americans and other people of color, and more than 75% of people vaccinated at Community Health Centers are people of color.
- In January, President Biden signed an Executive Order on Ensuring an Equitable Pandemic Response and Recovery, creating a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to provide specific recommendations to the President for mitigating the health inequities caused or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and for preventing such inequities in the future. Since February, there have been over 300 interim recommendations that the task force has developed on topics including interpersonal stress linked to racism, addressing the behavioral health consequences of the pandemic in communities of color, and vaccine access and acceptance. Some recommendations have already been implemented by the Administration, and final recommendations are slated for release in October.
Taking Strong Action to Reform Our Criminal Justice System. From enhancing police accountability, to reforming law enforcement and investing in community-based public strategies, to stopping harmful prosecution and incarceration practices, to supporting reentry, the Biden-Harris Administration has taken concrete actions to reform the criminal justice system and root out racial disparities. These policies and programs include:
- Reforming Law Enforcement Practices. In September, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a ban on use of chokeholds and carotid restraints except where deadly force is necessary, and new restrictions on no-knock warrants—implementing reforms for federal law enforcement administratively that the President had called on Congress to enact nationwide through the George Floyd Justice in Police Act. The Department also implemented a new policy requiring federal agents to wear body cameras when executing search warrants and pre-planned arrests. These changes make real the policy reform the country must undertake to prevent tragic killings like those of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the future. The directives apply to all agencies overseen by the Department including the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency, and U.S. Marshal’s Service. In September, the Department of Homeland Security announced the formation of the Law Enforcement Coordination Council (LECC)—the Department’s first unified law enforcement coordination body, chaired by the Secretary—to comprehensively review and revise its policies and training on use of force, compliance with civil rights and privacy interests, and other matters. In July, the Department of the Interior created a task force to study and recommend reforms for the its law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Park Police.
- Restoring the Use of Consent Decrees to End Systemic Police Misconduct. The DOJ rescinded guidance from the previous Administration curtailing the use of consent decrees to reform police departments with a pattern or practice of discrimination and misconduct. During this Administration, DOJ has opened pattern-or-practice investigations of the Minneapolis, Louisville, and Phoenix police departments.
- Improving Prosecutorial Guidance to Prevent Unduly Harsh Sentencing. The DOJ withdrew guidance issued in the previous Administration that required prosecutors to always charge the harshest sentences, replacing it with guidance that restored discretion to make decisions about charging, plea agreements, and advocacy at sentencing based on an individualized assessment of relevant facts.
- Supporting Legislation to Reform Racist Disparities in Sentencing. The President endorsed the EQUAL Act, which would eliminate the racist crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity once and for all and make the change fully retroactive.
- Executive Order Limiting Use of Private Prisons. The President ordered DOJ not to renew contracts for privately-operated criminal detention facilities, covering the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and U.S. Marshals Service (USMS). When completed, this will result in up to 14,000 people in BOP custody and 10,000 people in USMS custody being moved out of private prisons.
- Support for Community Violence Intervention (CVI) Programs. Black boys and young men ages 15-34 make up 2% of the population but are 37% of homicide victims, and homicide is the leading cause of death for Black men under the age of 45. Until this Administration, however, CVI programs like violence interrupters and hospital-based programs, which are demonstrated to reduce violence by up to 60%, have been badly underfunded. Under President Biden, the Treasury Department and Education Department issued guidance stating that CVI programs are eligible uses of American Rescue Plan funds—both the $350 billion in aid to state, Tribal, and local governments and the $122 billion to school districts. The Administration pivoted 26 existing grant programs across five agencies to support CVI. And President Biden continues to seek $5 billion in dedicated funding for CVI programs through his Build Back Better legislation. These historic funds would help curtail the epidemic of gun violence that hits Black communities hardest.
- Support for Reentry of Returning Citizens. In February, President Biden expanded access to Paycheck Protection Program loans by removing restrictions for entrepreneurs with certain past criminal records, bringing long overdue help to small businesses previously unable to access these funds. In June, the Department of Labor awarded $85.5 million to help formerly incarcerated adults and young people in 28 communities transition out of the criminal justice system and connect with quality jobs. The President issued an Executive Order directing the Office of Personnel Management to evaluate the existence of any barriers that formerly incarcerated individuals face in accessing federal employment, and to expand federal employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals. The Labor and Treasury Departments announced they would produce resources to help employers leverage tax credits to incentivize the hiring of formerly incarcerated persons. HUD clarified that returning citizens are eligible for the 70,000 emergency housing vouchers created by the ARP.
- Addressing Domestic Violent Extremism. President Biden directed the U.S. government to assess the threat of domestic violent extremism in the United States. In January, Secretary of the Department of Defense (DOD) Lloyd J. Austin III ordered a DOD-wide stand down to discuss the problem of extremism in the ranks, and in April he established a countering extremism working group, directing DOD officials to review and update the definition of extremism contained in DOO Instruction 1325.06, and calling on the services to update transition instructions to prevent those leaving the military from being recruited by extremist groups. In March, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released the unclassified executive summary of the comprehensive assessment acknowledging that enduring domestic violent extremism motivations stem from biases against minority populations. In April, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas ordered an internal review to root out white supremacy and extremism within DHS.
Using Executive Authority to Protect Voting Rights, Democracy, and Access to Justice. These policies and programs include:
- Fighting Laws that Make it Harder to Vote. The President has appointed some of the nation’s leading civil rights leaders to top positions in agencies across his Administration. Importantly, the DOJ has doubled its staff devoted to voting rights – an investment that is already paying off, as evidenced by the Department issuing formal guidance on the federal laws that protect the right to vote and bringing enforcement actions against recent threats to voting rights, including a lawsuit against Georgia’s new attempt to target the Black electorate. DOJ also launched a task force to help combat threats against election officials and election workers.
- Signing Executive Order Promoting Access to Voter Registration and Voting. On the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, President Biden signed an Executive Order to leverage the resources of the federal government to provide access to voter registration. Agencies across the federal government have announced steps they are taking to respond to the President’s call for an all-of-government action to enhance the ability of all eligible Americans to participate in our democracy.
- Reviewing Agency Practices to Promote Civil Rights Compliance. In September, the DOJ launched a broad 90-day internal review to assess how it enforces prohibitions on racial discrimination by law enforcement agencies that receive federal funding, building on administration efforts to combat systemic racism in policing, prisons and courts.
- Issuing a Presidential Memorandum on Access to Justice. President Biden issued a Presidential Memorandum requiring the Attorney General to submit a plan to expand the Justice Department’s access to justice work, and reinvigorating the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable to identify ways to prioritize civil legal aid and expand access to federal programs.
President Biden has reduced barriers for Black communities facing natural disasters. In September, FEMA implemented policy changes to reduce barriers that contributed to disparities experienced by Black Americans through programs that provide individual assistance to disaster survivors. These included changes to FEMA policies to make it easier for people living on heirs’ property – which is estimated to be the majority of Black-owned land in the South – to apply for disaster aid.
The President is not done. The Biden-Harris Administration will continue promoting equity and racial justice, including for Black Americans, as we build back better. These policies and programs include:
- President Biden’s Proposed Build Back Better Plan Will Promote Investment and Economic Opportunity in Black Communities. The President’s proposed Build Back Better Plan will reverse decades of disinvestment and wealth extraction in Black communities, other communities of color and rural communities, and drive good jobs and opportunity to every corner of the country, making long needed, once-in-a-generation investments in underserved communities: It will make universal preschool a reality, reduce housing costs and increase the supply of affordable housing, lower health care costs, improve maternal health, expand coverage to millions of low-income Americans by closing the Medicaid coverage gap, and extend the ARP’s historic child tax credit expansion, facilitating a 29% reduction in Black poverty relative to the projected poverty rate for 2022. The Build Back Better Plan also includes a $3 billion investment focused on improving maternal health in this country.
- Investing in HBCUs. The President’s FY22 budget requests a total of $1.06 billion for HBCU-specific funding in Higher Education Act (HEA)—an increase of $239 million over last year’s level. The budget would triple the mandatory Title III funding at the Department of Education— for a total of $252 million. Title III mandatory funds provide formula grants to all HBCUs to invest in capacity-building initiatives and student success programs. The President’s budget request includes funding for research opportunities at HBCUs, labs, IT infrastructure, workforce development programs in STEM, and DOJ funding for Violence Against Women Act programs at HBCUs, among other priorities.
- Transforming Public Education with Historic Funding Increases. Black students are less likely to have access to high-quality preschool, resulting in disparate outcomes before students even enter kindergarten. They are more likely to attend rundown and unsafe schools. They are taught by less experienced teachers. And they have lower college completion rates and higher student loan debt burdens than their white peers. The President has outlined a far-reaching agenda that will transform public education, advancing equity for Black students and prepare all students to succeed.
- The President’s proposed Build Back Better Plan would provide universal, high-quality preschool for all three- and four-year-olds; invest in school infrastructure so all students learn in safe and healthy school buildings with the technology and labs they need to prepare for the jobs of the future; and strengthen and diversity the teacher pipeline.
- The President’s FY22 budget proposal includes a $20 billion increase in Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Title I funding, which would more than double funds available under the flagship program for students in high-poverty schools, while providing meaningful incentives for states to address inequitable school funding systems and close gaps in access to rigorous coursework, like advanced math and science courses. Over 80% of Black students attend a Title I-eligible school, and there is a $23 billion annual funding gap between majority white and majority non-white school districts.
- The President’s proposed Build Back Better Plan would also provide two years of tuition-free community college. It would also provide tuition subsidies for students that attend four-year HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs whose families make less than $125,000 per year. Through Build Back Better and the FY22 budget, the President has requested a $1,875 increase to the maximum Pell Grant, benefitting the 58% of all Black students who receive Pell grants.
- Unwavering Support for the Fundamental and Sacred Right to Vote. President Biden has firmly and repeatedly called for Congress to enact the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act, which would together set national standards that make it easier to vote, and deliver new tools to prevent voting discrimination. And the President will continue to use every tool at his disposal protect the right to vote in free, fair, and secure elections.
- Addressing Police Misconduct. The President strongly supports the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. He is disappointed that legislation has not yet reached his desk, and he will not wait to advance meaningful police reform through executive action. The White House is currently consulting with the families of those killed in acts of police violence, civil rights groups, law enforcement, and others to determine further steps to advance police reform.