President Joe Biden would not be where he is without Black voters. Fittingly, he’s made some pretty weighty promises in his plan for Black America. We’re keeping track of them all in a biweekly series.
Whereas we normally keep track of how the president’s actions match up with his campaign promises, as of late, it's the promises themselves that are causing Biden problems. Allegedly intended to help the Black community, some of the president’s proposed undertakings more closely resemble wolves in sheep’s clothing. One potential wolf came in the form of a promise to authorize $300 million in funding to hire and train police officers on how to undertake a community policing approach.
It’s not necessarily a new goal. Biden detailed the spending in his plan for Black America released in May. ”As a condition of the grant, hiring of police officers must mirror the racial diversity of the community they serve,” he explained in the plan. When Biden, however, mentioned the added funding on February 16 during a CNN town hall, it attracted the attention of Black activists. Many of them pointed out that the promise flies in the face of what the Black Lives Matter movement and many supporters were advocating for when they took to the streets in the millions last summer to protest racist policing following the arrest of George Floyd. Floyd, 46, died in police custody on May 25 when a white Minneapolis cop kneeled on the Black father’s neck for more than eight minutes.
Biden said during the town hall he would not defund police, a rallying cry of protesters wanting to reallocate a portion of public safety funding to preventative social services, mental health resources, and education programming. "We have to put more money in police work so we have legitimate community policing and we're in a situation where we change the legislation," Biden said during the town hall. "No one should go to jail for a drug offense. No one should go to jail for the use of a drug. They should go to drug rehabilitation."
Movement lawyer Angelo Pinto took the president to task on Twitter for his plan to increase police funding and for several decisions he made from his repeated assertion during the CNN town hall that he would not cancel $50,000 in student loan debt for borrowers to his choice to retaliate against Syria for a deadly attack on a U.S-led base with an airstrike last week. Pinto—co-founder of the social justice organization Until Freedom, where he serves alongside activists Tamika Mallory, Mysonne Linen, and Linda Sarsour—also weighed in on pressure mounting against the president to turn a promised task force to reunite families separated at the U.S. border to actual action to reunite the families. “Biden didn’t TRY to bomb Syria he did,” Pinto tweeted. “Don’t TRY to do right by children at the border do right by them! Don’t TRY to cancel student debt - CANCEL STUDENT DEBT! Don’t give the police more money - DEFUND THE POLICE! Finally don’t ignore the DEMANDS - give Black people REPARATIONS!”
Student loan forgiveness
Pinto was far from the only critic of Biden’s remarks on student loan forgiveness. Filmmaker and activist Bree Newsome condemned the president in a Twitter thread on February 17:
“Biden admin could’ve already scored a *major* win by cancelling student debt which would’ve solidified support for his party among voters who were newly activated or reactivated in 2020. Instead he’s done damage by undercutting relief promises & making Dems seem untrustworthy…
...Again, these are maneuvers that make no sense either economically or politically. They are in service to an ideological moderatism that doesn’t align with the base of the party or with the views of a rising electorate that is younger & less white.”
To be fair, Biden never promised to forgive $50,000 in student debt. He instead laid out in his plan for Black America a promise to immediately cancel a minimum of $10,000 of federal student loan debt. During the CNN townhall, he rejected the idea that he say to a community “’I’m going to forgive the debt, billions of dollars of debt, for people who have gone to Harvard, and Yale and Penn.’”
Progressive Democrats condemned the logic. Rep. Ayanna Pressley told Rev. Al Sharpton on his MSNBC show on February 21 that canceling student debt is an economic justice issue. “It is a racial justice issue, and it must be a part of a just and equitable economic recovery from this pandemic,” she said. “This is a nearly $2 trillion crisis, and so the narrative that President Biden was pushing in that townhall is a misleading characterization.”
Pressley repeated a tweet she sent the day before Biden's inauguration: “You want to thank Black women? Cancel student debt -- all of it. Black women carry more student debt than any other group in America. Save your words of appreciation. Policy is our love language.” Pressley said the president “absolutely has the authority by way of executive action” to cancel $50,000 of debt.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on February 17 that Biden would actually hold off on making any decision regarding an executive action on student loan debt until his presidential appointees can weigh in. “We’ll wait for that conclusion before a final decision is made,” Psaki said.
While Biden’s plans related to public safety funding and student loan forgiveness have been just that—plans—he put into action a promise to assemble a diverse team of administration and cabinet picks. Most recently, the president recommended two people of color to the U.S. Postal Service governing board on February 24. Anton Hajjar is a former attorney of the American Postal Workers Union and legal adviser to the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee, according to Politico. Ron Stroman, a Black man, is the recently retired deputy postmaster general and a vocal critic of failing Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.
“The postmaster general specifically said, ‘Leave mail behind.’ That’s not an unintended consequence. That is a deliberate delay of the mail,” Stroman told MSNBC last August. “But let's even assume for a moment that it was unintended. Here you have a major figure, a CEO of (a) 600,000 employee organization who doesn't understand the consequence of making some of these initiative decisions.”
DeJoy has been widely criticized for overhauling the post office and shuffling the mail system's two head executives of daily operations, reportedly leading to several mail delays and earning him an invitation to a House committee for questioning last year. Stroman said then, months before the presidential election, that DeJoy was risking “disenfranchising hundreds and thousands of voters.” “The only way the Postal Service gets healthy is really by working with the Congress,” Stroman said.
It’s the same principle Biden is applying to a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package he’s also using to address historic inequities hampering Black farmers.
Coronavirus relief for Black farmers
The president rolled into the coronavirus package passed by House Democrats last Saturday a plan from Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia to allocate $5 billion in federal funding to extinguish federal debt incurred by Black, Indigenous, and Latino farmers. The relief bill aims to help Biden deliver on a campaign promise to address long-documented inequities in agriculture.
Following more than a century of discriminatory U.S. Department of Agriculture practices, a hard-fought class action lawsuit settlement pushed righting past wrongs hindering farmers of color to the forefront for the administration of President Barack Obama. “Despite the groundbreaking steps to address inequality that were taken under Obama-Biden, the practices and values of the USDA slid backwards under the authority of the (Donald) Trump administration—which ceased many agency-wide efforts to level the playing field,” Biden’s team said in his plan addressing economic racial inequities.
One such example was a program formed in 2018 to help farming heirs access farm numbers to participate in USDA programs and earn government-subsidized legal services, Vanderbilt University professor Amanda Little wrote in a Bloomberg op-ed. Trump cut the number of loans distributed to $5 million, Little said. A more expansive legislative effort from Sen. Cory Booker, the Justice for Black Farmers Act, could increase that funding to $50 million. The Justice Act also promises to give a new era of farmers 20 million acres of land and allow the USDA to doll out $8 billion a year to Black farmers over a 10-year period. “And while the Justice act, which spans 78 pages and hundreds of provisions, has little chance of passing in its entirety, it has crystallized an urgent call to action: Biden's administration and the 117th Congress now have a responsibility and an opportunity to reverse a long legacy of injustice,” Little wrote.
When the USDA set aside $19 billion to help farmers during the pandemic under the Trump administration, John Boyd, president of the Black Farmers Association, told NPR in May he knew most of that money wouldn’t reach small farms. "Most of the monies that you hear USDA talk about are going to corporate farmers, but absolutely nothing is in place for small-scale farmers like myself. And I believe that we're heading for a food shortage," Boyd said. The Virginia farmer added in a more recent interview last month with Inside Edition that while farmers know they have to "deal with mother nature," they shouldn't have to deal with "discrimination and unfair practices."
One in seven farms were Black-owned a century ago, and that’s now down to one in 50, the National Farmers Union posted a Twitter thread on Thursday. “For context on what that discrimination looks like: According to the most recent agriculture census, Black farmers receive about $59M in government payments; white farmers receive about $9B. Per capita, that’s $1,208 for Black farmers and $2,707 for white farmers,” the organization said in the thread.
Boyd, 55, told Inside Edition since his start to farming in the 1980s he's been "spat on, called the N-word and threatened with a gun when attempting to secure loans." “These are things that are happening in my lifetime, not my dad’s or my grandfather’s,” Boyd said. He continued that he’s optimistic but also cautious that Biden will usher in a new era for farmers. “I got up behind Biden because he told me there would be changes at USDA, which was important to me,” the farmer said. “I'm very optimistic, but I have to wait and see what kind of results we get.”
Stay tuned for more as we continue tracking how Biden delivers on his promises to Black America.
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