Ambassador Susan E. Rice Virtual Remarks to Government Alliance on Race and Equity
As Prepared For Delivery:
Thank you for that warm welcome, Glenn, and for the really excellent work that GARE and Race Forward have been doing to put equity front and center in our policymaking. I also want to thank you for sharing your insights at our White House Equity Convening last week. You’ve been a leader on these issues since your days in Seattle city government, and I hope it is gratifying to see the hard, important work of equity make it from Washington State to Washington D.C.
As 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. And, I’m very excited to join you just a week after we marked a major milestone in those efforts—the release of government-wide Equity Action Plans.
Before I speak to those plans, let’s take a step back for a moment. 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. Nothing of this scope and scale had ever been attempted. 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. This is not just a question of policy. It is the bedrock on which we must build a government that serves the people. To make democracy deliver for all Americans.
As GARE understands so well, equity goes to the heart of our success as a nation. Systemic racism and widespread inequities hold all of us back. This is not a zero-sum proposition. 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. One study estimates that racial discrimination has cost the U.S. an estimated $16 trillion over the past two decades. Conversely, these studies back up that a rising tide really does lift up all boats. Over the next five years, it’s projected that closing racial income and opportunity gaps could add $5 trillion to the economy and 6 million new jobs. In truth, as Glenn noted last week, “the dividends are almost incalculable.”
For the past 15 months, our Administration has been hard at work sparking that rising tide of growth and opportunity that will lift up communities facing hardship, persistent poverty, and deferred justice. 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 strengthen the Nation-to-Nation relationship between Tribes and the federal government. To promote environmental justice and defend the sacred right to vote.
As I mentioned a moment ago, last week we took 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 Cabinet-level agency to many smaller agencies like the Export Import Bank and the National Science Foundation. This was truly a whole-of-government endeavor.
Across the board, 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 bring down the outrageously high rates of maternal mortality 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.
To learn more about the 300-plus concrete strategies and commitments in these Action Plans, I urge you to visit the new website we just launched, whitehouse.gov/equity. But, beyond checking out the work we’re doing, I hope you’ll continue to inform it. Share what’s working in your own communities. Point out where we’re falling short. We want to learn from you.
Over the past year, I’ve had the profound honor of sitting down in Tulsa with survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre. I’ve visited community violence intervention programs from D.C. to Chicago to New York. [Later today, I’ll be heading to the Mississippi Delta to announce some exciting new rural initiatives.] In all of those interactions, I come away invigorated by the work that’s happening on the ground and eager to leverage those local lessons at the national level.
The goal of this conference is “Reimagining Government to Advance Racial Equity and Justice.” Our work to date is the beginning of that process. But, as President Biden said in releasing our government’s Equity Action Plans, “Advancing equity is not a one-year project. It’s a generational commitment.” We’re looking to you to help us keep that commitment. And, together—from the city council to the statehouse to the White House—I know we can continue to reimagine government and bring the full promise of America closer for every American. Thank you very much.