Advancing Equity: Review of the Biden Administration’s Efforts in Its First Year To Implement a Racial Equity Agenda
Advancing Equity: Review of the Biden Administration’s Efforts in Its First Year To Implement a Racial Equity Agenda
A Road Map of Policy Solutions To Bend the Arc of Racial Justice Toward Equity in Year 2 of the Biden Administration and Beyond
This report reviews the Biden administration’s key efforts and accomplishments to advance equity in its first year and outlines future policies needed to build a better and more dynamic nation that equitably respects the rights and meets the needs of all Americans.
In this article
Introduction and summary
President Joe Biden entered the oval office during a critical moment in the enduring struggle for racial justice in America. The COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying economic downturn magnified deeply entrenched, structural racial inequalities in America’s health and economic systems that left too many of the most underserved even further behind. These health and economic crises were compounded by climate disasters that intensified long-standing racial and environmental injustices harming communities of color. At the same time, the heart-wrenching loss of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other Black lives at the hands of current and former police officers galvanized a massive movement for systemic criminal justice reform.
On January 20, 2021—day one of his administration—President Biden recognized the urgent need to pursue a bold and comprehensive approach to address these pervasive and intersecting inequities and to deliver on America’s foundational but long-delayed promise of equal opportunity. He issued a historic executive order calling for a “whole-of-government equity agenda that matches the scale of the opportunities and challenges that we face.”1 The Biden administration’s commitment to a whole-of-government approach to advancing equity provides a unique opportunity to adopt large-scale policy solutions that embody America’s founding ideals of respecting human dignity and promoting equal opportunity.
Dismantling the deeply rooted inequities within the country’s social, economic, and political structures requires an equity agenda that is in equal parts transformative and enduring. To that end, this report builds on the comments that the Center for American Progress submitted to the White House Office of Management and Budget on July 6, 2021, to assist federal agencies in fulfilling their mandate under this executive order2 and highlights key policies the Biden administration has implemented over the past year. Yet, there is still much work to do to forge a path toward equity that respects the fundamental rights and dignity of people of color and opens the doors of opportunity and mobility too long shut to these communities. This report also explores the actions the administration should take in its second year in office and beyond that will build on the administration’s efforts to date and accelerate the long march toward a more equitable and just America.
This report focuses on the administration’s efforts to address systemic inequities in four core and interconnected areas: 1) restoring trust in America’s justice and political systems and ensuring they fairly represent and benefit all Americans; 2) building a stronger and more equitable economy for all; 3) tackling health inequities and improving public health; and 4) promoting a more equitable and sustainable climate.
Restoring trust in America’s justice and political systems
In its first year, the Biden administration:
- Provided increased federal grant funding for criminal justice reform
- Prohibited certain unjust federal law enforcement practices
- Updated federal prosecutor guidelines
- Reenacted the Access to Justice Initiative
- Invested in community violence intervention (CVI) programs
- Began developing a technology bill of rights
- Took executive action to combat violent white supremacy and enhance voting access
In its second year and beyond, the administration must:
- Work with Congress to pass meaningful voting rights legislation
- Advocate for passage of police reform legislation and take additional executive actions to reform law enforcement
- Facilitate reentry for justice-impacted individuals
- Overhaul the clemency process
- Implement civil rights protections for emerging technologies
- Develop rules for data extraction and surveillance
Building a more equitable economy
In its first year, the administration:
- Provided vital and equitable relief to address the economic downturn
- Secured critical infrastructure investments
- Enhanced pathways for entrepreneurs of color to succeed
- Removed barriers that block Black farmers from accessing federal programs
- Advanced equity in the nation’s housing and education systems
In its second year and beyond, the administration must:
- Close tax loopholes and make permanent vital tax credits
- Ensure equitable implementation of infrastructure investments
- Develop postal banking and accessible savings opportunities
- Build housing supply and strike down discriminatory barriers to homeownership
- Develop and train a diverse and inclusive workforce
- Guarantee paid family leave, subsidized child care, and universal preschool programs for all
- Close funding gaps between primary schools
- Reduce costs and barriers to higher education and provide relief to those already facing educational debt
- Support small- and disadvantaged business owners in gaining access to capital and contracts
Promoting health equity
In its first year, the administration:
- Centered equity considerations in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic
- Invested in a stronger public health infrastructure and a more diverse health care workforce
- Made insurance coverage accessible and affordable for people of color
- Advanced Black maternal health
In its second year and beyond, the administration must:
- Improve equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and therapeutics
- Invest in pandemic preparedness and surveillance, data capabilities, community partnerships, and infrastructure
- Close the Medicaid coverage gap and the maternal health coverage gap permanently
- Address the social determinants of health
Advancing environmental justice
In its first year, the Biden administration:
- Created the first-ever White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council
- Made a historic commitment to direct 40 percent of the administration’s climate and clean energy investments to disadvantaged communities (Justice40)
- Tackled a slew of environmental injustices, including the impacts of toxins, pollution, natural disasters, and extreme weather on communities of color
In its second year and beyond, the administration must:
- Invest further in environmental initiatives, including green energy and carbon capture
- Develop public data to track environmental justice projects
- Use emissions and environmental impact data in federal investment criteria
- Provide rebates and incentives for renewable energy and efficiency
- Invest further in lead remediation projects
- Implement equity standards in disaster relief
- Modernize investment laws to include key environmental provisions, benchmarks, and community agreements
- Prevent the displacement of people of color following environmental investments
In the years ahead, implementing these policies is critical to ensuring that America lives up to its ideals, reaches its potential, and reaps the full benefits of our rich diversity.
Restoring social trust and strengthening democracy
America’s promise of equality under the law has long been undermined by a criminal justice system that imposes and amplifies systemic racism and injustice in communities of color. Likewise, racialized voter suppression efforts, now surging in states across the country, have been a longstanding scourge on democracy. At the same time, technology platforms, corporations, and big data have fractured civil discourse, amplified misinformation, and promoted extremism and white supremacist violence. The Biden administration has taken significant steps to address racial injustices in the U.S. justice system and to promote voting rights, democracy, and access to justice for communities of color. A sustained executive commitment to racial equity in the justice and electoral systems and throughout our democracy remains paramount in the coming years, given the failure to pass federal policing reform and voting rights legislation and the increasing threat of online hate and white supremacist violence.
Reforming the criminal justice system
Overcriminalization, mass incarceration, and discriminatory policing target and harm communities of color. Communities of color, and Black people in particular, are disproportionately impacted at every step of the criminal justice system, starting with more police stops,3 arrests,4 and convictions5 and resulting in higher rates of incarceration6 and longer sentences.7 Justice system involvement also creates significant and lasting barriers to building stable lives, from posing obstacles to gaining employment and finding quality housing to reducing lifetime earnings and negatively affecting life outcomes for children of justice-impacted parents.8 Even more devastatingly, Black Americans are killed by police at double the rate of white Americans. Hispanic Americans are also killed by police at a disproportionate rate when compared to white Americans.9
The Biden administration has taken several important steps to help end harmful and discriminatory criminal justice practices. The U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) under Biden banned federal law enforcement from using chokeholds and carotid restraints, except where deadly force is necessary,10 placed new restrictions on federal no-knock warrants,11 and now requires federal agents to wear body cameras when executing search warrants and conducting pre-planned arrests.12 The DOJ also reinstated the use of consent decrees to promote constitutional policing in jurisdictions engaging in patterns or practices of discrimination and misconduct.13 The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)14 and Department of Interior (DOI) created initiatives to review and reform their law enforcement policies.15 The DOJ issued new guidance to prosecutors, rescinding the previous administration’s requirement that prosecutors charge the harshest possible sentence, and restored prosecutors’ discretion to make individualized assessments in charging and sentencing decisions.16 The Biden administration also dedicated $1.3 billion for criminal justice reform grants, an increase of 78 percent from the previous year,17 including:
- $20 million for police training on racial profiling, de-escalation, and duty to intervene
- $20 million for the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services’ (COPS) Collaborative Reform Model, after it was defunded by the Trump administration
- A 33 percent increase in funding for improving officer responses to the mentally ill
- An additional $35 million for body-worn cameras
- $25 million for restorative justice responses to domestic violence
- $100 million to reduce juvenile incarceration
The Biden administration has also sought to support reentry for justice-impacted people by issuing an executive order directing the Office of Personnel Management to remove barriers to and expand opportunities for federal employment for justice-impacted individuals.18
Ensuring voting access for people of color
Racially divisive leaders, the rise in white supremacist violence, and the deluge of state legislation seeking to suppress voting, especially by people of color, builds on a long and shameful history of excluding people of color from the democratic process. Since January 1, 2021, more than 17 state legislatures have passed antidemocratic laws.19
In March 2021, the Biden administration issued an executive order requiring federal agencies to consider how they can expand opportunities for all Americans to register to vote and participate in the electoral process.20 Additionally, the DOJ doubled its staff of voting rights attorneys to combat state actions that violate voting rights. The DOJ also launched a task force to counter threats against election workers and issued guidance on post-election audits, methods of voting, and vote-dilution protections.21 These steps help to support anti-discrimination activities at the state level and prevent people of color from being excluded from the democratic process.
Promoting equitable access to justice
Justice policies and systems create barriers for communities of color in accessing legal assistance when navigating civil and criminal court systems. The Biden administration restored the DOJ’s Access to Justice Initiative and revitalized the White House’s Legal Assistance Interagency Roundtable.22 A strong indigent defense and civil legal aid system helps advance equal justice by assisting all individuals in better understanding and fully exercising their rights.23
Developing community violence intervention programs
From 2015 to 2019, Black boys and young men ages 15 to 34 represented 2 percent of the U.S. population but 37 percent of gun homicide victims.24 Homicide is the leading cause of death for Black men under the age of 45.25 Black women, Latinos, and Native Americans are also disproportionately impacted by gun violence.26 Community violence intervention (CVI) programs provide proven strategies to reduce gun violence and increase safety in communities, particularly in communities of color that experience high levels of homicides. These programs have been able to reduce gun homicide rates up to 50 percent in as few as two years.27
The Biden administration allocated $5 billion to CVI programs. Five agencies are prioritizing funding for additional CVI programs, including the following:28
- DOJ: The Comprehensive Youth Violence Prevention and Reduction Programs; Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program; Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation program; Community Policing Development Micro-Grants; COPS Hiring Program; Smart Policing Program; Project Safe Neighborhoods; Strategies to Support Children Exposed to Violence
- Health and Human Services (HHS): Firearm Injury and Mortality Prevention Research; Preventing Violence Affecting Young Lives; National Centers of Excellence in Youth Violence Prevention program
- Housing and Urban Development (HUD): Choice Neighborhoods Initiative; using Community Development Block Grant—CV Funds for CVI initiatives
- Department of Education (ED): 21st Century Learning Centers; Student Support and Academic Enrichment; Project Prevent; Full-Service Community Schools; Promise Neighborhoods
- Department of Labor: YouthBuild; Young Adult Reentry Partnership
Technology reforms to address racial inequity
Technology, data systems, and online platforms can perpetuate systemic racism and racist policies and entrench inequities. Emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), utilize algorithms that can and have worsened disparities in health care procedures and outcomes. They have also affected access to credit and government resources for people of color and have been used to racially profile and disproportionately arrest people of color.29 The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy launched the development of a Bill of Rights for an Automated Society to clarify rights and protections regarding emerging technologies, enforce protections, and advance rights-affirming development of new technologies.30 Through a series of public panels, stakeholder inputs, and a Request for Information on biometric technologies, the administration’s Bill of Rights initiative aims to engage the American public in an effort to defend and promote rights and equity in the development of AI-powered technologies.
Additionally, gaps in digital literacy and disparities in inter-language content moderation on online platforms affect the spread of misinformation and undermine the ability of disadvantaged communities to access trustworthy information, such as health guidance. Studies have shown that racial and ethnic minorities are less knowledgeable regarding the pandemic and COVID-19 due to disparities in internet access and availability of health information, which is compounded by disparities in trust of scientists and medical researchers, particularly among Black Americans.31 Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released a report on health misinformation that included recommendations for reducing multi-lingual misinformation and improving monitoring systems and platform interventions for non-English languages.32 The Biden administration has also accelerated information integrity research, including creating an interagency working group to promote coordination of information integrity across the federal government.33 The National Science Foundation’s Convergence Accelerator initiative awarded $9 million to facilitate individual and community resistance practices to misinformation and disinformation.34 ED’s Digital Literacy Accelerator recently launched an effort to identify school-based programs to increase students’ digital literacy as a means to combat misinformation.35
Combating white supremacist violence
White supremacy undermines American democracy and restricts people of color’s safety, security, and ability to participate in the democratic process. In October 2020, the DHS identified racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists, including white supremacists, as “the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland.” Consistent with CAP and the McCain Institute’s National Blueprint for Ending White Supremacist Violence,36 the Biden administration launched a National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism.37 A key initial step to advance this national strategy includes the administration joining the Christchurch Call to Action to Eliminate Terrorist and Violent Extremist Content Online, which is a coalition of countries working to counter terrorists and extremists who use the internet to radicalize and recruit.38 In addition, DHS is conducting an internal review to root out white supremacy and extremism within the department.39
Moving forward: Biden administration actions to restore social trust and strengthen democracy
Amidst voter suppression tactics, police brutality, gun violence, and technological discrimination, the administration needs to advance bold, large-scale policy solutions that meet the long-standing challenge of racial injustice. The administration should promote and support meaningful voting rights legislation to secure access to the ballot and prevent racial discrimination and racial gerrymandering in the democratic process. It should support federal police reform legislation and lead by example through a large-scale review of federal use-of-force policies. The administration should also enact executive actions to collect and publish enhanced demographic data on federal stops, arrests, and use-of-force incidents, develop a federal officer decertification standard, and continue to invest in community-centered approaches to safety. They should continue to advance programs and policies to support enhanced access to counsel and reentry for justice-impacted individuals and should overhaul the clemency process to make it fairer and more equitable. The administration should develop, release, and implement policies cultivated through the Bill of Rights for AI process that protect against harmful discrimination in the application of advanced technologies, uphold civil rights, and promote equity in the development and deployment of emerging technologies. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should develop rules to protect people from discriminatory data extraction and surveillance practices, especially communities of color who are disproportionately harmed by insecure and extractive data practices.
Creating an economy for all
The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic fallout have drastically affected millions of Americans and worsened the longstanding exploitation and occupational segregation of people of color, who are routed into chronically undervalued jobs with modest wages and limited benefits. Stark wealth disparities between Black and white households in America existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic and have continued to grow during the crisis. The Biden administration’s passage of the largest stimulus and infrastructure bills in a generation and additional vital investments and policy improvements in lending, housing, and education have been crucial to advancing a more equitable economic recovery. In the coming years, the Biden administration can advance an economic agenda that tackles longstanding inequities by expanding and making permanent the tax credits instituted as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The administration can also center equity in the implementation of the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act (IIJA) and tackle pervasive barriers to economic opportunity entrenched in the nation’s banking, housing, and educational systems.
Providing equitable relief from the economic downturn
To provide equitable economic relief to individuals and families, the ARPA has made a concerted effort to reach the most vulnerable by:
- Launching a “Get My Payment” tool: Individuals and families at the lowest level of income are particularly vulnerable to being shut out of federal stimulus relief because they are less likely to file taxes. These nonfilers are also more likely to identify as Black or Hispanic.40 To ensure that financial relief reached those most vulnerable, the U.S. Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service released a “Get My Payment” tool that led to more than 26 million direct payments for individuals who are nonfilers.41 These direct payments of $1,400 for single tax filers and $2,800 for married couples for low- and middle-income households (including adult dependents) across the country offered much needed relief for millions of Americans and helped those with the greatest financial hardships.42
- Expanding the child tax credit: The expansion of the child tax credit (CTC) increased the amount of aid per child from $2,000 to $3,000, provided an additional $600 for children under age 6, included 17-year-olds, and extended the payment to Puerto Rico. For the first time, the CTC payments were sent to families as a monthly benefit starting in July 2021, which helped provide some semblance of financial stability for those struggling the most. These payments cut the child poverty rate by more than 30 percent43 and lifted a total of 9.9 million children above or close to the poverty line, including 2.3 million Black children, 4.1 million Latino children, and 441,000 Asian American children.44 Additionally, the CTC expansion made the program fully refundable, meaning that low-income households received the full, larger benefit.
- Expanding the earned income tax credit: The expansion of the earned income tax credit (EITC) nearly tripled the maximum benefit for workers without children in the home—including elderly, working Americans—raising the credit to $1,502 per year. The EITC expansion included full refundability, disproportionately benefiting young workers and students, particularly young Black, Hispanic, and AAPI workers who are more likely to have low-wage jobs and live in poverty.45
Fostering equitable infrastructure investments
Structural inequality has been embedded into America’s current infrastructure through choices made by governments, developers, and decision-makers across the country. A prime example is the building of the federal interstate system, which displaced 475,000 families and more than 1 million people from their homes and communities, often people of color.46 Highways regularly devastated thriving Black communities by destroying Black homes, churches, schools, and businesses and separating Black and white neighborhoods.47 Disparate infrastructure investments in communities of color have resulted in fewer public transit options to neighborhoods, businesses, and job centers; insufficient affordable housing units; inequitable access to clean water, reliable electricity, and internet connectivity; and less economic opportunity overall.
Cognizant of past and present infrastructure inequities, the Biden administration’s Department of Transportation (DOT) issued an order requiring its offices to review the potential discriminatory impact of grantees’ proposed activities before awarding federal funds.48 This requirement can help ensure that federal grants do not support discriminatory activities that deepen inequity. In addition, the administration’s historic IIJA contains several provisions that could help address past and current inequities and foster more equitable investments in the future, including the:
- Reconnecting Communities Pilot program: The IIJA allocates $1 billion for infrastructure projects in communities and neighborhoods previously separated by highways, bridges, or other past construction. The program dedicates $250 million for planning grants and $750 million for capital construction grants to transform highway infrastructure and reconnect communities through retrofitting, overhauling, and deconstruction of highways that have negatively impacted disadvantaged communities, namely communities of color.49
- Rail and public transportation expansion: The IIJA includes $105 billion to sustain, modernize, and expand rail and public transportation to connect people to jobs, grocery stores, health services, and more.50 Latino and Asian-American workers are twice as likely as white workers to not have a vehicle to commute to work.51 African American workers are three times as likely to not have a vehicle, and the disparities are even larger in metropolitan areas.52 For longer commutes of over 60 minutes, workers of color are overrepresented among public transit commuters.53 These rail and transportation investments will spur affordable and efficient public transit for people of color and allow them to participate more fully in society. Public transit investments also create more job opportunities for communities of color, not only in construction but also in administrative, machinery, manufacturing, legal, accounting, and other sectors. In particular, Latino workers are overrepresented in construction jobs and project to gain the most in new employment.54
- Broadband development and deployment: The IIJA invests $42.5 billion in expanding broadband accessibility, equity, and deployment in communities that are currently underserved, where 80 percent or more members of the community lack broadband access or lack adequate broadband speed.55 The law also requires internet service providers to offer lower-cost plans and nutrition-label style summaries of plans to enable better consumer comparison.56 Currently, approximately 80 percent of white adults have broadband internet access at home, compared to 71 percent of Black adults and 65 percent of Hispanic adults.57 The law’s expanded services will increase affordability and speed for those with internet access and provide access to digital health, services, training, and resources for those without internet access, which will advance economic and social opportunity, increase equity, and help close the digital gap for people of color.
- Digital Equity Act: The IIJA also includes the Digital Equity Act of 2021, which contains the Digital Equity Competitive Grant program and the Digital Equity Capacity Grant program. These programs allocate $1.25 billion and $1.5 billion, respectively, to help close the digital divide by expanding digital capacity and skills in disadvantaged communities.58 The competitive grant program promotes digital inclusion activities and spurs greater adoption of broadband among covered populations through skills training, equipment access, and the construction of new and improved public computing centers. The capacity grant program builds broadband adoption capacity efforts at the state level through plans to identify barriers to digital equity faced by covered populations. It also aims to promote digital literacy, awareness, and technical support for how broadband capacity will impact economic and workforce development outcomes, education outcomes, health outcomes, and civic and social engagement for disadvantaged communities.
Most of this funding will be distributed to states based on preexisting funding formulas that determine the overall dollar amount per state and provide states with significant discretion as to how to utilize the funding. Thus, significant and coordinated engagement with state and local governments and communities is key to equitable implementation of these infrastructure dollars. Approximately $120 billion is set aside for discretionary funding for DOT, which allows DOT to develop funding criteria that should prioritize correcting past inequities and advancing equitable opportunity.59
Ensuring access to financial services
Structural inequalities inherent to the nation’s banking and financial institutions have long resulted in discrimination against Black Americans and people of color. For centuries, Black Americans and people of color were excluded from participating at banks aimed at white depositors. This exclusion was compounded by the effects of credit and housing discrimination that stripped wealth from communities of color and continues to this day.60 Overall, communities of color continue to have less access to traditional banking services and pay higher costs for the services they are able to access.61 The Biden administration has taken steps to combat the systemic inequities Black Americans and communities of color face when dealing with banking institutions by:
- Initiating the U.S. Postal Service pilot banking program: A federal postal banking system would help provide banking to communities across the country and minimize the reliance on predatory lenders in communities of color. In its current form, the pilot program, which is in four U.S. cities, offers check-cashing services, ATM access, and bill-paying services. The administration should work with Congress to expand this pilot into a national postal banking system.
- Investing in minority depository institutions: The U.S. Treasury created the Emergency Capital Investment Program, a new $9 billion initiative to enhance capital for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and minority depository institutions to support loans, grants, and forbearances for low-income and minority business owners and customers disproportionately harmed by the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.62
- Awarding grants through the CDFI Rapid Response Program: This $1.25 billion program enabled 863 CDFIs to provide critical support for distressed and underserved communities and people facing economic challenges worsened by the pandemic.63
Providing pathways for entrepreneurs of color to succeed
American entrepreneurship has been the cornerstone of the American dream; however, opportunities to open small businesses have not been equitable. Black Americans own fewer than 2 percent of small businesses with employees, and Black women own fewer than 1 percent of these businesses.64 The Biden administration committed to using the clout of federal government to increase the share of federal contracts reaching small, disadvantaged businesses and worked with Congress to secure additional investments to enhance economic opportunities for small and minority-owned businesses. These additional investments include:
- Leveraging federal procurement: President Biden has directed agencies overseeing the more than $650 billion of annual federal purchasing power to expand federal contracting with small, disadvantaged businesses, including Black-owned businesses, by 50 percent. This amounts to an additional $100 billion over five years, which will help many more American entrepreneurs achieve their dreams.65
- Codifying and expanding funds for the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA): Included in the IIJA is $110 million in annual funding for the MBDA through 2025, which helps to support entrepreneurs of color by providing access to capital.66
- Reauthorizing the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI): In 2021 Congress reauthorized the SSBCI for the first time since it expired in 2017, injecting $10 billion for CDFIs to distribute funds to small businesses.67 The increase in funding toward CDFIs primarily benefits low-income and marginalized communities. Data show that 84 percent of CDFI customers are low-income, 60 percent are people of color, 50 percent are women, and 28 percent live in a rural area.68
Removing barriers experienced by Black farmers
A majority of Black-owned land in the South, an estimated 60 percent, is heirs’ property, meaning property that passes collectively to the descendants of property owners who pass away without a will. Heirs’ property has historically been ineligible for private and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs and lending assistance because of uncertainty surrounding the legal title to the land. The USDA launched an Heirs’ Property Relending Program to provide funds for those with heirs’ property to help resolve these ownership and succession issues.69
Protecting equitable access to quality, stable housing
The United States housing crisis is the culmination of decades of discriminatory housing policies that have perpetuated racial inequities. The housing crisis disproportionately impacts families of color, as Black people represent 40 percent of the homeless population but just 13 percent of the overall population.70 Moreover, eviction rates are higher in majority-Black neighborhoods and remain higher even when controlling for factors that make families vulnerable to eviction, such as low income and property values.71 The pandemic has significantly exacerbated the housing crisis. More than 6 million American families have been at risk of eviction during the pandemic, while millions more struggle to afford rent in safe housing. Renters of color have experienced the greatest financial hardship and have fallen behind on rent at disproportionate rates.72
Biden took executive action on his first day in office to extend the eviction moratorium. This action disproportionally helped Black families to remain in safe housing during the pandemic, as Black neighborhoods with moratoriums saw the largest decrease in eviction filings compared to non-Black neighborhoods.73 In addition, the ARPA provided $21.6 billion to states and localities for the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program to cover rent and utility costs for struggling renters. A total of $2.5 billion was earmarked for high-need grantees paying more than 50 percent of income on rent or those in overcrowded or substandard housing developments. An additional $750 million in housing assistance was distributed to tribes and Native Hawaiians for rent or other means to stay housed.74 Access to ERA funds through states and localities has provided critical financial support to sustain healthy and safe housing access for people of color and disadvantaged communities.
For those struggling to pay mortgages, an additional $10 billion was provided for the Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF) to prevent homeowners from defaulting. At least 60 percent of HAF funds were dedicated to homeowners making less than 100 percent of their area median income.75 These programs disproportionately support families of color, as Black and Hispanic homeowners have been more than twice as likely as white homeowners to be delinquent on mortgage payments or in forbearance during the pandemic, despite comprising just 18 percent of all mortgage borrowers.76
Addressing racial inequities in homeownership
Racial discrimination and injustice have entrenched stark racial disparities in homeownership rates and home values. Homeownership rates for Black Americans amount to 44 percent, well below the rates for white Americans at 74 percent and behind the national average of 65 percent. Hispanic and Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AAPI) people also own homes at rates lower than the national average, at 48 percent and 60 percent, respectively.77
Additionally, African American homeowners remain concentrated in residentially segregated neighborhoods where homes have failed to appreciate at the same pace as those in neighborhoods with predominantly white homeowners.78 In fact, homeowners in majority-Black and Latino census tracts receive appraisal values lower than the contract price twice as often as those in majority-white census tracts.79 These inequities cause communities of color to miss out on the full wealth-building benefits of homeownership. To address inequities in homeownership, HUD created an interagency initiative to root out discrimination in the appraisal and homebuying process.80
To remove barriers and enhance access to affordable mortgages and financing, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) updated policies to provide more access to FHA-insured mortgage financing for those with student loan debt, which has a disproportionate impact on communities of color. Additionally, HUD released a rule affirmatively furthering fair housing, which requires local governments that accept federal housing dollars to review their policies and to actively work toward reversing segregation, which exacerbates these disparities.81 To increase equitable access to loans, mortgages, and other lending for home-buying and renting, HUD began the process to restore the discriminatory effects rule to protect against housing policies, such as zoning requirements, lending and property insurance policies, criminal records policies, and others that have a disparate impact by race. Also, HUD issued a letter encouraging lenders to devise special purpose credit programs to remedy racial inequities in homeownership.82
Investing in safe, equitable, and inclusive educational opportunities
Quality education and educational outcomes are critical for social advancement, wealth accumulation, and participation in America’s democratic institutions. Systemic policies have created school environments that prevent students of color from opportunities to access a high-quality education, including concentrating young students in under-resourced and underperforming schools. The pandemic exacerbated educational inequities through uneven quality and often poor implementation of online learning, a lack of access to safe classroom conditions, an inability to meet basic needs, and financial hardship.
To respond to hardships faced by schools amidst the pandemic, the ARPA provided $122 billion for public elementary and secondary schools to prepare for physical reopening, test, repair, and upgrade projects to improve air quality in school buildings, purchase education technology, and provide mental health support. Provisions in the law protect underserved students from disproportionally harmful cuts that have occurred in prior recessions by requiring states who receive federal education funds to ensure high-need and high-poverty school districts do not receive lower per-student allocations compared to other districts.83 The law also includes $800 million for ED to identify homeless children and youth and provide them with wraparound services and assistance needed to attend school and fully participate in school activities.84
To respond to the hardships faced in higher education, the ARPA provided $40 billion for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, including $3 billion for minority-serving institutions.85 Some historically Black colleges and universities have been able to use these funds to forgive students’ unpaid loan balances.86 Overall, institutions have used this funding to provide direct aid through student grants and implement COVID-19 prevention and mitigation strategies to keep colleges and universities open and accessible to all.
Head Start programs promote school readiness for infants, toddlers, and preschool-age children from low-income families by focusing on early learning and development, health, and family well-being. The program has outsized impacts on children of color, as poverty rates for Black children (29 percent), Hispanic children (22 percent), and American Indian/Alaska Native children (27 percent) far surpass the national average (14 percent).87 Head Start programs have been serving one-third fewer children than before the pandemic began, drastically impacting educational equity that comes from these programs.88 Through the additional $1 billion invested in Head Start programs through the ARPA,89 these programs can create safe environments for children to re-enter, invest in transportation and meal access for families to use these services, and recruit more children and staff.
Moving forward: Biden administration actions needed to create an economy for all
After decades of policy choices and inaction resulting in deeply rooted and systemic racism that has left too many people of color behind, the Biden administration’s focus on an equitable economic recovery is critical.
Despite the ongoing pandemic in 2021, the American labor force has experienced a strong and historic recovery fueled by investments President Biden made in the American people through the ARPA. The U.S. economy has added 6.2 million jobs since Biden took office, the most jobs added in any year on record.90 The economy also experienced the fastest drop in unemployment in a single year. The unemployment rate was 6.3 percent in January 2021 and is now 3.9 percent, a rate that the Congressional Budget Office predicted would be reached in 2026.91 However, the unemployment rates for Black Americans and Latinos remain significantly higher than those for white men and women.92
Women of color in particular continue to experience compounding discrimination through racism and sexism in the labor market. This is especially true for Black women who experienced the largest percent decline in the labor force among all groups of women and men. As of December 2021, 288,000 Black women have dropped out of the labor force compared to pre-pandemic numbers, amounting to a 2.7 percent reduction.93 This is on top of a lack of access to affordable child care for American households and school closures, which have forced too many women to drop out of the workforce entirely.
Additional action and deliberate policy choices and investments are needed in the years ahead to dismantle the roots of systemic oppression and to create sustainable and equitable economic and labor systems that give everyone a true opportunity to succeed and attain their American dream. For example, poverty-reduction policies such as the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit should be extended and made permanent; the administration should provide guidance and support to state and local governments and communities to center equity in planning decisions for the historic infrastructure investments; and federal banking and capital resources, such as postal banking and myRA savings plans, should be developed to grant Americans, and particularly people of color, access to capital and financial services.
When it comes to housing, policy must be developed and implemented to combat exclusionary zoning, boost supply, prevent discrimination, and allow people of color to build wealth through homeownership. Policies for renters should include sweeping investments in housing vouchers, the preservation of public housing infrastructure, and the National Housing Trust Fund to build and preserve new homes that are affordable to low-income and disadvantaged communities.
Investments must be made in paid family leave, subsidized child care, and universal preschool to provide families and parents of color with equal opportunities in early childhood development and labor participation. The cost of higher education should be reduced by funding two years of tuition-free community college and increasing the value of Pell Grants for eligible students while closing funding gaps at institutions serving primarily students of color.
Moreover, government contract opportunities should prioritize small, disadvantaged business owners and workforce development programs for communities of color, including union jobs, apprenticeships, and training programs for emerging investments in infrastructure.
Advancing racial equity in health
The Biden administration assumed office at the height of an ongoing pandemic and public health crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed and exacerbated inequality in health outcomes for communities of color, namely Black, Latino, and Native American people. These inequalities result from systemic racism ingrained into the health care system, underinvestment in public health infrastructure (particularly in low-income communities), lack of access to and affordability of health care coverage, and unaddressed racial disparities in social determinants of health.
Equity in COVID-19 pandemic response
To advance racial equity in health and address health disparities, the Biden administration issued an executive order—Ensuring an Equitable Response to the Pandemic—that formed a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force whose mission was to address health inequities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and prevent such inequities in the future.94 The Task Force recommended means for equitable allocation of COVID-19 resources and relief funds, effective outreach and communication to underserved and minority populations, improved data collection across race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity, and long-term plans for health data shortfalls in communities of color beyond the pandemic.95 The ARPA allocated $7.5 billion for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, including funds to community-based organizations, health centers, and other groups to prioritize vaccine intake in medically underserved communities and disproportionately affected populations.96
In addition, the Biden administration authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in partnership with the Department of Defense, to fund, build, maintain, and promote mass vaccination centers throughout the United States, prioritizing historically marginalized population areas. FEMA vaccination site locations were determined using data, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Social Vulnerability Index and other Census data, to vaccinate the most vulnerable populations, including communities of color who have disproportionately higher levels of adverse outcomes related to infection.97 The result was a dramatic close of the vaccine gap between people of color and their white counterparts. The gap in vaccination rates between white and Black people fell by 14 percentage points, while the difference in white and Hispanic vaccination rates decreased from 13 percentage points to less than 3 percentage points.98
Strengthening public health systems and the workforce for communities of color
The COVID-19 pandemic spotlighted the severe underinvestment and lack of preparedness in the nation’s public health infrastructure. Public health systems and their policies and practices have historically embedded racism and negatively impacted mental and physical health outcomes for people of color.
To strengthen public health for communities of color, the administration distributed $2.25 billion to state and local public health departments through HHS and the CDC.99 This funding was used to address racial disparities due to disease, build capacity of services, improve data collection of health data by race and ethnicity, and mobilize community partners to target high-risk and underserved groups. States have used ARPA funds to create health equity offices, improve data systems, and develop engagement, notification, and communications tools tailored to diverse communities.100
The ARPA also distributed $7.4 billion to state and local health departments to hire additional, diverse, and representative public health staff, educate and train public health workers, and develop an employment pipeline in underserved communities, with a focus on recruiting from minority-serving institutions and universities.101 Part of this funding will also be leveraged for public health data infrastructure to reduce long-standing health disparities and inequities through data and analysis.102
Building a diverse health care workforce
The health care workforce suffers from a lack of diversity in key professions. The pandemic has elevated the need to increase the health care workforce while making it more accessible and equitable in representation. People of color are significantly underrepresented in the health care professions, with Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans all underrepresented by about 50 percent or more compared to population by age group.103 Specifically, as of 2017, registered nurses were disproportionately white, and only 5 percent identified as Latino, 6 percent as Black, and 7.5 percent as Asian.104 The ARPA provided investments in the health care workforce through the Medical Reserve Corps and additional funds for loan forgiveness and scholarships through the National Health Service Corps, which supports health clinicians in shortage areas. The $200 million investment for the Nurse Corps helps repay up to 85 percent of unpaid nursing education debt for eligible nurses, which helps to encourage people of color and those disproportionately represented in the health care profession to join in the field. Strengthening the diversity of the health care workforce fosters greater racial patient-physician concordance, which, studies show, can improve quality of care through patient communication, preventive care, and patient satisfaction.105
Making insurance coverage accessible and affordable for people of color
Inadequate health insurance coverage is one of the largest barriers to health care access and a significant contributor to health disparities.106 A lack of insurance coverage prevents people from receiving the health care that they need, and vulnerable populations, including people of color, face more barriers to insurance coverage than other groups. As of June 2021, 23.6 percent of Hispanic Americans and 11.8 percent of Black Americans lacked health insurance, compared to 7.5 percent of white Americans.107
To expand insurance coverage and care, particularly to those of low and medium income, the Biden administration expanded upon provisions of the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid, including:
- Increasing subsidies for low-income earners to pay for coverage
- Providing maximum subsidies to those unemployed during the pandemic
- Bolstering tax credits for health insurance to reduce premiums for those with insurance coverage or enable purchase for those without coverage
- Subsidizing 100 percent of premiums for COBRA continuation coverage for workers laid off by their employer
- Providing $7.6 billion to community-based health centers to care for disadvantaged, uninsured, and low-income people108
The administration additionally included incentives in the ARPA for states to further expand Medicaid coverage. These incentives provide additional funding to states to adopt Medicaid expansion, increase federal support for Indian Health Service Providers, and establish postpartum coverage to new mothers for 12 months to combat maternal mortality. More than 58 percent of Medicaid recipients in the United States are people of color, disproportionately Black or Hispanic, who face greater obstacles to insurance coverage and care.109
Advancing Black maternal health
Among high-income, developed countries, the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate, has a comparative shortage of maternity care providers, and is an outlier for failing to guarantee access to provider home visits or paid parental leave in the postpartum period.110 Black and Native American women are two to three times likelier than white women to experience deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth.111
The administration included incentives in the ARPA for states to further expand Medicaid coverage by establishing postpartum coverage to new mothers for 12 months. Estimates show that 720,000 people per year would gain access to the 12 months of postpartum coverage through Medicaid expansion if all states adopted the measure.112 Additionally, the administration worked with Congress to pass the Protecting Moms Who Served Act, which will combat the maternal mortality crisis among veteran women. Specifically, it will provide for the first-ever comprehensive study evaluating America’s maternal health crisis among women veterans and will support maternal care coordination programs at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities, with a focus on racial and ethnic disparities in maternal health outcomes. Overall, postpartum coverage will support mothers to receive proper care and greater attention to reduce maternal disparities and prevent deaths.113
Moving forward: Biden administration actions needed to advance racial equity in health
People of color who have long suffered from systemic health disparities, who have had unequal access to health care, and who have faced social barriers exacerbating poor health outcomes benefited from the Biden administration’s decision to focus on an equitable pandemic response. As the nation and its health systems recover from the pandemic, new policies and investments are needed in the years ahead to further close the gap in health outcomes for communities of color, to ensure health care is accessible and treated as a human right, and to facilitate healthy and safe lives for all Americans.
The administration should continue to prioritize equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and therapeutics. To prevent future disparities and outcomes, it should invest heavily in public health pandemic preparedness, including surveillance, data capabilities, community partnerships, and infrastructure in disadvantaged communities, while strengthening public health laboratories, the Strategic National Stockpile for vaccines and personal protective equipment, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) infrastructure.
Importantly, the administration should permanently close the Medicaid coverage gap through comprehensive health care policy that expands coverage in Medicaid nonexpansion states. Estimates and analysis indicate that covering people in the Medicaid coverage gap would save 7,000 lives per year while also resulting in nearly 50,000 fewer evictions annually and a $2 billion reduction in medical debt collection.114 Since nearly 60 percent of people in the coverage gap are people of color, the coverage expansion would improve health outcomes and reduce health disparities through regular and continuous care, screenings, and preventative services while also reducing medical debts and the socio-economic disparities they cause.115
Similarly, closing the maternal health coverage gap would also help eliminate the significant and tragic racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality.116 Continued effort should also be made to address the social determinants of health through providing safe and affordable housing, creating access to quality education, building transportation and digital infrastructure, expanding opportunity for employment and good wages, developing access to healthy food, and creating safe environmental and community conditions.
Tackling climate change and environmental justice
Systemic racism and injustice have left people of color exposed to the harshest effects of pollution and environmental health risks. People of color are disproportionately burdened by more extreme weather and climate catastrophes and are most vulnerable to displacement by new infrastructure investments that drive up the cost of living and spur gentrification. The Biden administration announced the first-ever White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC), which includes 26 of the nation’s top environmental justice leaders and scholars. The Advisory Council will provide essential guidance to combat environmental injustice and invest in disadvantaged communities.117 The administration has also instituted several new programs and investments to advance environmental justice, including launching the Justice40 Initiative and justice-oriented ARPA and IIJA investments.
Investing in environmental justice through the Justice40 Initiative
One of the first actions the Biden administration took in 2021 was to sign into law the executive order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.118 The order launched the Justice40 Initiative, which will direct 40 percent of the administration’s climate and clean energy investments to disadvantaged communities. It aims to remedy the high levels of pollution, chronic disinvestment, and diminished access to capital in communities of color and low-income areas resulting from discriminatory environmental, housing, infrastructure, and economic policies.
Through the ARPA, $50 million was allocated for environmental justice projects through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).119 This includes:
- $16.6 million to fund environmental justice grants, capacity building, training and assessments, capacity assessment of drinking water systems in Puerto Rico, and a new Appalachia Initiative for Revitalization, in addition to technical assistance and environmental youth STEM training in overburdened communities
- $7 million for a Diesel Emissions Reduction Act rebate program that will reduce pollution by funding electric school buses using screening criteria, with the goal of reaching fleets in underserved communities with multiple air quality and health challenges
- $5.1 million to expand civil and criminal enforcement, to include monitoring near low-income communities and drinking water sources for pollutants such as air toxins and hazardous metals, and environmental analyses related to oil and gas production and refinement
- $4.85 million for children’s health issues, including funding for the Children’s Healthy Learning Environments Grant and Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units, which build capacity in vulnerable communities to reduce children’s environmental exposures in child-occupied settings and address children’s environmental health risks
- $4.7 million for drinking water and compliance monitoring in rural and tribal areas to support small and underserved public water systems and wastewater treatment facilities
- $2.1 million to support the EPA’s community-driven solutions effort to collaboratively build community capacity to address air and water issues in underserved communities, provide technical assistance to align school reopening investments with clean air and neighborhood cooling shelter needs, and promote equitable resilience and revitalization
- $1.6 million to support efforts by tribes to engage their community members on water and air quality issues
- $0.7 million for a climate protection program to advance data analytics work in the Office of Air and Radiation to identify cumulative burdens and improve equity outcomes for vulnerable communities, and to advance regulatory analytics and policy modeling to better incorporate environmental justice considerations
In making these investments and others in the areas of clean energy and energy efficiency, clean transit, affordable and sustainable housing, training and workforce development, the remediation and reduction of legacy pollution, and the development of critical clean water infrastructure, the administration will begin to redress the severe disinvestment and underinvestment in communities of color and help ensure that the most vulnerable communities benefit from new investments and construction. Creating cleaner water and air, a safer climate, and more equitable opportunities for communities of color through these investments will make meaningful strides in advancing equity.
Monitoring and addressing the disparate impact of pollution
People of color disproportionately suffer from exposure to pollution and contamination compared to white Americans. Black Americans are exposed to more pollution across all sources—industry, agriculture, vehicles, construction, residential, and restaurants—at greater rates and in greater concentrations, as are Hispanic and Asian Americans.120 The overall exposure disparity, which measures the relative concentration difference between each racial-ethnic group weighted by population, is 21 percent for Black Americans, 11 percent for Hispanics, and 18 percent for Asian Americans. The disparity for white Americans is -8 percent. Long-term exposure to high levels of pollution causes higher rates of cancer, asthma, and health problems and leads to greater risk of premature death.121
To combat pollution, the ARPA provided funding to state and local governments, some of which will support EPA projects to protect air and water quality, enforcing limits on smog and tailpipe emissions and implementing climate-friendly energy programs. The ARPA granted the EPA an additional $50 million for air pollution monitoring to be granted to states, localities, territories, and Native American tribes to conduct monitoring of pollutants of greatest concern in communities with health outcome disparities and environmental justice concerns.122 These investments are critical for communities of color because 57 percent of the more than 530,000 people who live within three miles of an oil refinery, oil well, natural gas facility, or power plant are people of color.123
Addressing lead pipes and contamination
Lead pipes and contamination affect the drinking water of approximately 10 million U.S. households, schools, and care facilities, with more than half of American children under the age of 6 at risk of exposure.124 Lead poisoning can cause serious health problems, especially for children, and is associated with reduced cognitive function and academic achievement, as well as attention-related and other behavioral problems.125 Communities of color are hardest hit by lead exposure because many of those communities exist in older, more industrialized, and more polluted areas in a given city and often face racist financial and political barriers when it comes to the removal of lead pipes and lead paint. Blood lead levels for Black children and Mexican American children are significantly higher than for white children when accounting for age, sex, and income.126
To combat lead exposure through drinking water, the IIJA invests $15 billion toward remediating lead pipes in communities and schools, including $3 billion to be distributed in 2022, with calls to prioritize underserved communities.127 The Treasury Department has provided additional guidance for state and local governments to use part of the $350 billion they received from the ARPA to continue similar projects for lead pipes and paint.128
In addition, HUD is awarding grants to remove lead paint in low-income communities and collaborating with the USDA and DOI to remove lead service lines and paint hazards in federally assisted housing, including Tribal housing.129 Black Americans, in particular, have much to gain from these vital investments to combat lead pollution and contamination as Black Americans are more than twice as likely as white Americans to live in substandard housing with increased risks of deteriorating lead-based paint.130
Emitting less greenhouse gases
The United States contributes 13 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions annually.131 Greenhouse gases contribute to global warming, resulting in rising sea levels, the disruption of ecosystems, a decline in agricultural production, and an increase in extreme weather events.
The effects of global warming have disparate impacts on communities of color. Alaska Native and Indigenous peoples experience significant drops in their food supply due to rising temperature effects on fish and wildlife.132 The increase in droughts displace Latino farmworkers, who comprise the majority of the agricultural workforce in states such as California, which results in lost wages and economic suffering.133 Black communities have historically suffered disproportionately from natural disasters and received less recovery investment and rebuilding funds compared to white communities.134
The Biden administration invested $30 billion through the ARPA to assist mass transit systems harmed by the pandemic and to keep services running amidst lower ridership. Mass transportation systems are critical to lowering emissions in the transportation sector, which emits the most greenhouse gases of any U.S. sector.135 Through the IIJA, the administration is investing $90 billion in public transit—the largest federal investment in history—in part, to replace diesel and deficient vehicles with lean, zero-emission vehicles and improve accessibility for the elderly and people with disabilities. An additional $66 billion will go toward modernizing Amtrak rail service, $17 billion for infrastructure and waterways, and $25 billion for airports, all with goals to reduce emissions from transportation and drive electrification and low-carbon technologies. The same legislation dedicates $7.5 billion to build a national network of electric vehicle (EV) chargers along highway corridors to incentivize and accelerate adoption of EVs, which reduce emissions compared to gasoline-powered cars at a rate of 60 percent.136
In addition to carbon reduction, the EPA created a rule mandating the phase down of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are more harmful than carbon dioxide in global warming. The rule specifically phases down production and consumption of HFCs in the United States by 85 percent over the next 15 years, which is expected to help avoid up to 0.5 degrees Celsius of global warming by 2100.137
The impacts of emissions reduction are momentous, particularly for communities of color. The average person of color lives in an area with higher summer daytime temperatures than non-Hispanic white people, and within urban neighborhoods, Black Americans are exposed to an extra 3.12 degrees Celsius of heating, on average, compared to an extra 1.47 degrees Celsius for their white counterparts. Heat exposure leads to reduced labor productivity, decreased learning, increased dehydration, heat strokes, and mortality.138
Reducing impacts of natural disasters and extreme weather on communities of color
Climate change increases the likelihood and severity of natural disasters and extreme weather events. People of color are more likely to live in areas that are most vulnerable to flooding and other climate change-related weather events, leading to disproportionate catastrophic financial and physical harm. Historically, infrastructure investments have lacked the requirement to withstand extreme heat and powerful storms, particularly in low-income communities, which are most at risk.
To combat and mitigate disaster impacts, the Biden administration, through the IIJA, invests in resilient infrastructure to curb the impacts of climate change, with over $50 billion to protect against droughts, heat, floods, and wildfires, in addition to a major investment in weatherization. These investments are particularly important for communities of color and include protection for extreme heat and other extreme weather, such as high-efficiency air conditioning, efficient building designs, and shade trees.139
Additionally, FEMA has taken steps to combat inequities stemming from counties with a significant share of Black, Hispanic, or Native American residents receiving less disaster recovery funding than mostly white counties suffering similar amounts of damage.140 The agency has developed a policy to accept a “broad range of documents” to prove homeownership after a disaster, including motor vehicle registrations, letters from schools, receipts from major home repairs, statements from mobile home park operators, and other statements.141 This measure will contribute to better aid for those with heirs’ property, or property passed down without title documentation, which disproportionally affects Black people and dates back to the first Black settlements after slavery. Additionally, FEMA’s National Advisory Panel reviewed equity data and released four initiatives to be implemented to address inequity in disaster aid programs. This includes an “equity standard” to measure program impact on equity, increase fairness in grants to local governments, develop racial equity and diversity training for its employees, and hire a workforce that reflects the population it serves.142
Equitable access to energy and water
The COVID-19 pandemic placed sweeping financial and physical strains on millions of Americans. People of color disproportionately lost jobs, faced financial hardship, and met unpayable bills. Black households’ energy burden is 43 percent higher than white households’, while Hispanic households’ energy burden is 20 percent higher than white households’ prior to pandemic-related burdens.143
Through the ARPA, the Biden administration allocated $4.5 billion for the Low-Income Household Energy Assistance Program to help consumers pay energy, heating, and cooling bills. Households experience high food insecurity during heating and cooling seasons with high energy bills, and the program provides immediate assistance to sustain nutrition, particularly for children, as well as prevent homelessness, hazardous fires due to using space heaters, and chronic conditions due to heat exposure. The ARPA allocated an additional $500 million to states, territories, and tribes for the emergency Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program to help households pay water and sewer balances and bills.144
Moving forward: Biden administration actions needed to promote environmental justice
Centuries of systemic environmental injustice have forced people of color to endure dangerous and life-threatening environmental and health risks. President Biden and his White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council’s commitment to Justice40 and climate and clean energy investments for disadvantaged communities will help combat the effects of the climate crisis on people of color. As the nation approaches a target of 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2030, and with continuing effects of displacement, extreme weather, and exposure to harmful pollutants, additional policies and measures should be taken to protect communities of color from the risks of environmental injustice.
The administration should continue to invest in environmental initiatives, including green energy and carbon capture, while developing transparent and public data to track the implementation of Justice40 and ensure 40 percent of federal investments are reaching communities of color and other disadvantaged groups. The administration should develop and use investment criteria and guidance on emissions and environmental impacts for federally funded projects, and it should provide rebates for EV infrastructure and home energy efficiency. Further, it should invest in lead remediation projects in drinking water and paint used in homes and schools within disadvantaged communities. For its part, FEMA should implement an equity standard for its emergency recovery program grants and develop accountability measures across all disaster response programs. The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) should be modernized to include key environmental provisions, including performance benchmarks, formal community benefits agreements, and standardized public reporting. Critically, because new investments in infrastructure, resiliency, and community can amplify gentrification and displacement, these investments must include explicit anti-displacement protections to keep communities in place.
Recommendations: Taking action on opportunities to advance equity in the years ahead
The Biden administration’s commitment to a whole-of-government approach to advancing equity offers an important pathway for this nation to deliver on its founding promise of equal opportunity. This report provides a road map of key policy solutions to meet the moment and rebuild America’s economy, health systems, climate, and core democratic institutions to be stronger and more equitable for all.
Actions to restore social trust and strengthen democracy for people of color
- Support meaningful voting rights legislation, including the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, to secure access to the ballot and prevent racial discrimination in the democratic process through gerrymandering
- Support meaningful police reform legislation; conduct a large-scale review of federal use-of-force policies; implement executive actions to collect and publish enhanced demographic data on federal stops, arrests, and use-of-force incidents; develop a federal officer decertification standard; and continue to invest in community-centered approaches to safety
- Advance legislative and executive vehicles to support reentry for justice-impacted individuals
- Propose a new civil justice corps program, administered by the DOJ, for recent law school graduates to fund two years of service with an organization that holds a proven track record of success in improving civil justice within underserved communities
- Reinvigorate and overhaul the clemency review process by moving it out of the DOJ to a diverse, standing commission
- Continue to nominate judicial appointees with public defense and civil rights backgrounds to ensure a professionally diverse federal bench with a wide breadth of legal experiences
- Develop, release, and implement an AI Bill of Rights that protects against harmful discrimination in the application of advanced technologies
- Require the FTC to develop rules around data extraction and commercial surveillance practices, which have disproportionate negative impacts on communities of color, whose data are used in nonconsensual ways to discriminate against them, violate rights, and threaten data security in asymmetric ways
Actions to create an economy for all and close the racial wealth gap
- Extend and make permanent the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit
- Issue guidance and technical assistance to cities and states using IIJA funding to ensure equitable infrastructure implementation, equitable hiring, and access to quality jobs in IIJA industries, such as construction and trades
- Create a full postal banking system and reinstate the “myRA” savings plan for Americans who do not have access to an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan
- Develop and fund equitable workforce development programs to address the fact that communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by job loss during the pandemic
- Invest in sector-based training programs, registered apprenticeships, and other workforce development programs that lead to good, union, and middle-class jobs, and combat occupational segregation
- Fund direct workforce development for justice-involved youth, including young adults with criminal records, justice-impacted young adults, or young adults who have dropped out of school or other educational programs; prioritize projects serving high-crime, high-poverty areas, programs targeting Native American communities, migrant and seasonal farmworker programs, and workforce development for individuals with disabilities through the Competitive Integrated Employment Transformation Grant
- Develop a federal-level comprehensive housing policy that combats racial segregation, addresses exclusionary zoning restrictions, and invests in the construction, rehabilitation, and improvement of affordable housing to boost supply and reduce costs for renters and homeowners
- Heavily invest in rental assistance housing vouchers, preservation of public housing infrastructure, and the National Housing Trust Fund to build and preserve affordable homes for low-income and disadvantaged communities
- Issue guidance and hold local public housing authorities accountable to ensure that low-income individuals and families have access to housing supports in a nondiscriminatory manner
- Advance a national paid family and medical leave program to ensure that caregivers and parents of color have adequate work/family supports
- Subsidize child care and universal preschool to provide families and parents of color with equal opportunity
- Work with Congress to close funding gaps at institutions serving larger proportions of students of color
- Build a more racially and linguistically diverse educator workforce and strengthen the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education
- Lower the cost of higher education by funding two years of tuition-free community college and increasing the value of Pell Grants for eligible students
- Make college accessible and affordable and improve equitable outcomes for all students
- Develop a plan to achieve and then track the White House’s goal of using the government’s purchasing power to drive an additional $100 billion to small, disadvantaged business owners
Actions to advance racial equity in health
- Continue to ensure equitable access to vaccines, testing, and therapeutics, including newly FDA-approved antiviral drugs, as COVID-19 variants emerge
- Permanently close the Medicaid coverage gap through comprehensive health care policy that expands Medicaid coverage in nonexpansion states
- Improve Black maternal health by increasing access to critical services, enhancing the quality of care provided to pregnant women, addressing maternal and infant mental health, providing supports for families before and after birth, and conducting better data collection and oversight
- Grant authority to the HHS Secretary to negotiate for lower drug prices, as people of color have disproportionate levels of chronic diseases, such as diabetes
- Invest in additional home and community-based care
- Invest in pandemic preparedness, including the CDC and grants to state, territorial, local, and tribal health departments to support core activities, such as surveillance, data and accountability, community partnership, and emergency response, and enable better pandemic response to curb inequities of pandemic outcomes
- Invest in public health laboratories, strengthen the Strategic National Stockpile for manufacturing of vaccines, and invest in FDA infrastructure to enable federal, state, and local public health systems to meet the needs of people of color who suffer disproportionate and more severe health outcomes
Actions to achieve environmental justice for communities of color
- Develop transparent and public data to track Justice40 implementation and ensure 40 percent of infrastructure and climate investments are reaching communities of color and other disadvantaged groups
- Implement an equity standard for FEMA’s emergency recovery program grants to ensure resources are distributed equitably to communities of color and disadvantaged communities upon disaster
- Create and invest in a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund to support pollution-free energy and transportation
- Invest in clean, heavy-duty vehicles to replace older vehicles for goods transport
- Provide rebates for EV infrastructure and home energy efficiency to combat the environmental justice crisis and meet our clean energy goals
- Invest in additional lead remediation projects to eliminate lead service pipes for drinking water in disadvantaged communities
- Develop and use investment criteria and guidance to ensure that federally funded projects reduce harmful pollution and emissions, minimize extreme weather risks, prevent displacement of existing community members, and meaningfully engage community stakeholders
- Modernize the CRA to take environmental factors into account; extend CRA coverage to institutions such as credit unions; develop performance benchmarks that track social and economic outcomes; require formal community benefits agreements to include communities of color in identifying investment needs; and expand and standardize the data CRAs report publicly
On day one of his administration, President Biden made a historic commitment to advance equity across the whole of the federal government. One year later, the Biden administration has implemented a variety of policies to address systemic inequities and to help all Americans and the country overall thrive. Still, the vast racial inequities that exist today are the result of inequitable policies hundreds of years in the making, and it will take a sustained commitment to remedy these harms and to center equity in policymaking going forward. This report outlines a series of policy solutions the Biden administration should adopt in the years ahead to continue building a better and more equitable America, where all Americans can lead safe, healthy, and prosperous lives and fully and fairly participate in America’s economy and democracy. Implementing these policies will build a better and more dynamic nation that respects the rights and meets the needs of all Americans—a nation where the full array of American talent and ingenuity is able to flourish and thrive.
- The White House, “Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government,” January 20, 2021, available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/20/executive-order-advancing-racial-equity-and-support-for-underserved-communities-through-the-federal-government/.
- Nicole Lee Ndumele and Lorena Roque, “Re: Center for American Progress Written Comment on FR DOC # 2021-09109,” Center for American Progress, July 6, 2021, available at https://americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2021/07/RacialEquityEO-comments.pdf?_ga=2.56838506.1369091419.1642520256-1977936603.1621271928.
- Emma Pierson and others, “A Large Scale Analysis of Racial Disparities in Police Stops across the United States,” Nature Human Behaviour 4 (2020): 736–745, available at https://5harad.com/papers/100M-stops.pdf.
- Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, “Statistical Briefing Book: Law Enforcement & Juvenile Crime, Arrests by offense, age, and race, 2019,” available at https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/crime/ucr.asp?table_in=2 (last accessed February 2022).
- NAACP, “Criminal Justice Fact Sheet,” available at https://naacp.org/resources/criminal-justice-fact-sheet (last accessed February 2022).
- The Sentencing Project, “Report to the United Nations on Racial Disparities in the U.S. Criminal Justice System” (Washington: 2018), available at https://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/un-report-on-racial-disparities/; Rep. Ashley Nellis, “The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in State Prisons” (Washington: The Sentencing Project, 2021), available at https://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/The-Color-of-Justice-Racial-and-Ethnic-Disparity-in-State-Prisons.pdf.
- Glenn Schmitt and others, “Demographic Differences in Sentencing: An Update to the 2012 Booker Report” (Washington: United States Sentencing Commission, 2017), available at https://www.ussc.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/research-and-publications/research-publications/2017/20171114_Demographics.pdf.
- The Sentencing Project, “Report to the United Nations on Racial Disparities in the U.S. Criminal Justice System”; Rep. Nellis, “The Color of Justice.”
- Colleen Walsh, “Solving Racial Disparities in Policing,” Harvard Gazette, February 24, 2021, available at https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2021/02/solving-racial-disparities-in-policing/.
- Claire Rafford, “Justice Department Announces Ban on No-Knock Entries, Chokeholds,” Politico, September 14, 2021, available at https://www.politico.com/news/2021/09/14/justice-department-no-knock-chokeholds-ban-511785.
- Christina Carrega and Josh Campbell, “DOJ Ends Policy That Prohibited Federal Officers from Using Body-Worn Cameras,” CNN, June 8, 2021, available at https://www.cnn.com/2021/06/07/politics/body-cameras-justice-department/index.html.
- Katie Benner, “Justice Dept. Restores Use of Consent Decrees for Police Abuses,” The New York Times, April 16, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/16/us/politics/justice-department-consent-decrees.html.
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- Georg Bieker, “A Global Comparison of the Life-Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Combustion and Electric Passenger Cars” (Washington: The International Council on Clean Transportation, 2021), available at https://theicct.org/sites/default/files/publications/Global-LCA-passenger-cars-jul2021_0.pdf.
- Phasedown of Hydrofluorocarbons: Establishing the Allowance Allocation and Trading Program Under the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act, 40 CFR § 9, 40 CFR § 84 (2021).
- A. Hsu and others, “Disproportionate exposure to urban heat island intensity across major US cities,” Nature Communications 12 (2021), available at https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-22799-5.
- Christopher Flavelle, “Billions for Climate Protection Fuel New Debate: Who Deserves It Most,” The New York Times, December 3, 2021, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/03/climate/climate-change-infrastructure-bill.html.
- S.J. Domingue and C.T. Emrich, “Social Vulnerability and Procedural Equity: Exploring the Distribution of Disaster Aid Across Counties in the United States,” The American Review of Public Administration 49 (8) (2019): 897–913, available at https://doi.org/10.1177/0275074019856122.
- Chloe Johnson, “FEMA Change May Make It Easier for Heirs Property Owners to Get Disaster Relief,” The Post and Courier, September 23, 2021, available at https://www.postandcourier.com/hurricanewire/fema-change-may-make-it-easier-for-heirs-property-owners-to-get-disaster-relief/article_41cf523e-1aec-11ec-a972-3b19b8f505dc.html.
- Ariel Drehobl, Lauren Ross, and Roxana Ayala, “How High Are Household Energy Burdens?” (Washington: American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, 2020), available at https://www.aceee.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/u2006.pdf.
- Olivia Wein and Larry Levine, “Fact Sheet on Recent Federal COVID-19 Relief Funding to Help Consumers with Water and Sewer Bills” (New York: Natural Resources Defense Council, 2021), available at https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/media-uploads/fs_nrdc_covid_water_sewer.pdf.
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Nicole Lee Ndumele
Senior Vice President, Rights and Justice
Former Senior Policy Analyst
Policy Analyst, Racial Equity and Justice