As Prepared For Delivery:
Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining this White House convening on equity. I’m Susan Rice, President Biden’s Domestic Policy Advisor. I have the responsibility and privilege of driving the President’s domestic policy agenda in the White House and across the federal government, from health care to economic mobility to rural and urban policy. That includes quarterbacking our efforts to advance equity and racial justice.
On President Biden’s very first day in office, he signed a historic Executive Order making equity and racial justice the business of the entire federal government. That had never been done before.
But, President Biden and Vice President Harris knew—like so many of us—that it was past time for us to live up to the ideal of equal opportunity at the core of American democracy. They also understood that equity goes to the heart of our success as a nation. When the typical Black family has just one eighth the wealth of the typical white family, that corrodes our broader economy. When at least 35 percent of Americans in rural and tribal communities lack adequate high-speed internet, that restricts growth and competitiveness well beyond rural America. We must reject a “zero sum” mentality and recognize the reality—backed up by economic research—that a rising tide really does lift all boats.
For the past 15 months, our Administration has been hard at work doing just that. We passed the landmark American Rescue Plan, advancing an equitable response to the pandemic and cutting child poverty to record lows. Through the President’s historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we’re closing the digital divide, removing poisonous lead pipes, and creating good jobs in underserved communities—both rural and urban. We’re working to tackle housing discrimination. To promote environmental justice and defend the sacred right to vote.
Today, we’re taking another important step towards a more just and equitable future. When President Biden signed that Day One executive order, he directed each federal agency to develop an Equity Action Plan, identifying the often-invisible barriers that prevent their policies and programs from benefitting all Americans and coming up with ways to address those obstacles. More than 90 agencies answered that call, from every major Cabinet-level agency to smaller entities like the Export Import Bank and the National Science Foundation. This was truly a whole-of-government endeavor.
To learn more about the 300-plus concrete strategies and commitments in these Action Plans, you can visit the new website we’ve launched today, whitehouse.gov/equity. And, you’ll hear more from our panelists shortly. But, I’ll note that the thoroughness and creativity reflected in these plans are impressive. The Pentagon is leveraging its vast procurement power to narrow the racial wealth gap and support small, disadvantaged businesses. The Environmental Protection Agency is revitalizing its focus on environmental justice for disadvantaged communities, shifting its civil rights enforcement from primarily responding to complaints to proactively initiating reviews. To address the maternal mortality crisis among Black and Native women, HHS is working with states to expand Medicaid postpartum coverage for a year after childbirth—a critical period in which nearly 12 percent of postpartum deaths occur. These plans also embed equity into the day-to-day work of the federal government—from making it easier to fill out forms and navigate websites, to the work our Equitable Data Working Group is doing to use demographic data to make better policy and deliver better results for the American people.
Collectively, these Equity Action Plans will grow federal investment and support in communities that have been locked out of opportunity for too long. Communities of color. Tribal and rural communities. LGBTQI+ communities. Communities impacted by persistent poverty. People with disabilities. Women and girls.
This is transformative work, and I want to thank the agency leaders—those with us today and those who aren’t—for prioritizing it. I’m also grateful to the many advocates and stakeholders who consulted with us and pushed us to raise our ambitions. And, I want to especially thank our team at the White House—particularly the staff at the Domestic Policy Council and Office of Management and Budget—who carefully reviewed and offered detailed guidance on nearly a hundred of these plans.
Today is a day of progress. But, we’re not resting on our laurels. As President Biden said a year ago, “We need to make equity and justice part of what we do — today, tomorrow, and every day.” The Biden-Harris Administration is going to keep doing the hard, important work. And, I have immense optimism that working together—inside and outside of government—we will bring the full promise of America closer for every American. Thank you very much.