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.
So far, Biden’s presidency has provided unexpected glimmers of hope where there has long been pitch darkness, particularly with regards to diversity and policy attempts to help improve upward mobility in Black communities. His recently announced judicial nominations and healthcare plans give two more signals of brighter days to come. And the president’s jobs plan, which would dedicate $2 trillion to repair infrastructure and create union jobs, is yet another reason for renewed hope.
Creating jobs in Black communities
Biden’s promises: To dedicate $1.3 trillion to creating union jobs, bringing broadband to every household, and improving infrastructure "in communities that need it most."
Biden’s action: The president announced his American Jobs Plan on Wednesday promising over the next eight years to modernize 20,000 miles of streets, roads, and highways and repair 10,000 bridges "providing critical linkages to communities." “In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Black and Hispanic residents were twice as likely as white residents to report experiencing an income shock with no recovery support,” White House officials said in a fact sheet. “President Biden’s plan increases resilience in the most essential services, including the electric grid; food systems; urban infrastructure; community health and hospitals; and our roads, rail, and other transportation assets.”
The plan includes $100 billion to build high-speed broadband infrastructure and bring broadband coverage to 100% as well as $20 billion to “reconnect” isolated communities overlooked in transportation projects.
One of those communities is Amy Stelly’s Tremé neighborhood in New Orleans, which has a highway cutting directly through it, The Washington Post reported. Stelly has been advocating to have the highway removed. “Nobody thinks you can get rid of a highway,” she told the Post. Biden’s plan does. “I’m floored,” she said. “I’m thrilled to hear President Biden would call out the Claiborne Expressway as a racist highway.”
Not stopping only at projects aiming to improve transportation infrastructure, the president’s plan also allocates $40 billion to upgrade research infrastructure, half of which will be reserved for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority Serving Institutions. Maxwell Frost, national organizing director for the student-led gun control demonstration March For Our Lives, however, focused on a smaller monetary commitment included in the plan, $5 billion for evidence-based community violence prevention programs. “This is great, but we have to keep the pressure on to ensure this doesn’t get removed,” he tweeted on Wednesday.
U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge called the plan a “once in a century kind of an investment in infrastructure in this country,” in an interview with journalist Roland Martin. “As the HUD secretary, the first thing I looked at is how does it affect housing,” Fudge said. “Forty billion dollars just to make sure that we can repair, rehabilitate, stabilize housing for low-income people. In this package, he is anticipating that we are going to build two million more units of affordable housing.”
“We are talking about putting resources into things that we have not done in ages. When we talk about expanding housing vouchers, that hasn’t been done really since Bill Clinton. Martin, people don’t understand what we have gone through, the malaise that we have experienced over the last 20 years. This is something that I can get excited about because we are finally going to say to people who need a job: ‘We’re going to provide that transportation route for you to get to those jobs no matter where you live. We’re going to make sure that you live in decent, stable, clean housing. We’re going to make sure that you can take care of your parents and your children.’
It is historic in ways I can’t even count on this show.”
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries tweeted about the plan on Wednesday: "President Biden’s infrastructure plan will create millions of good paying jobs. For. The. People. The prior administration talked about it. We are about it."
Building on Obamacare
Biden’s promises: To reopen Obamacare enrollment, increase federal investments in Medicaid, up Affordable Care Act subsidies, and increase the value of tax credits to lower premiums and deductibles.
Biden’s actions: The newly confirmed Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra celebrated the 11th anniversary of Obama's signature Affordable Care Act by extending enrollment for health care through August 15 for 36 states that aren't determining their own deadlines. Passed as part of Biden's American Rescue Plan, the extension was coupled with increased tax savings, enhanced federal subsidies, and reduced premiums expected to save an average of $50 per person and $85 per policy each month. "An underappreciated part of the #AmericanRescuePlan is that it will reduce and cap out of pocket health care costs for millions of Americans," Rep. Val Demings tweeted on March 15. "This will be the biggest expansion of federal help for health insurance since the Affordable Care Act.”
The government usually restricts enrollment to stop people from only signing up for insurance when they are sick, The Washington Post’s editorial board wrote on Tuesday. Instead, more than 200,000 people enrolled in a government health insurance plan the first two weeks of a special enrollment period Biden started in February. The Affordable Care Act also makes sure at least two million people who lost their jobs and health insurance to boot during the pandemic are eligible for Medicaid or subsidies to pay for private healthcare plans.
“Even so, the ACA’s promise to ensure that no one goes without health care remains stubbornly unfulfilled,” the Post’s editorial board wrote. “A major reason: Republicans ripped a big hole in the law, denying coverage to more than 2 million low-income people.”
Appointing Black judges
Biden’s promises: To make sure the federal workforce and “political appointees, including the President’s Cabinet, look like the country they serve. In addition to his vow to prioritize diversity, Biden repeatedly promised he would name the first Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court if an opportunity presented itself.
Biden’s actions: Well, an opportunity may present itself—Democrats hope— in the form of Justice Stephen Breyer retiring. Washington Post reporter Dave Wiegel tweeted on March 15: “Breyer doesn't have the ‘yaaaaas slaaaaay’ cult that (late Justice Ruth Bader) Ginsburg did; Biden's promised to appoint the first black female justice. Expect more of a unified left effort to get Breyer to realize how fun retirement can be."
Biden announced on Tuesday that his plan to nominate 11 circuit, district, and superior court judges includes three Black women—Tiffany Cunningham for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, Candace Jackson-Akiwumi for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Katie Barlow, a blogger for the high court, speculated on Twitter that Jackson may be on the president’s shortlist for a Supreme Court appointment as she was for former President Barack Obama. Jackson would be only the second Black woman on the D.C. Circuit, a court Barlow described as "a well-known court for future Supreme Court justices."
The judge has served the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia since 2013. She was vice chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission for three years during a point in time when the commission had the goal of reducing “the draconian penalties that had been in place for crack cocaine,” NPR reported. Jackson began her career in law as a law clerk and went on to clerk for Justice Stephen Breyer from 1999 to 2000. She presided over many important cases including the congressional subpoena for former White House counsel Don McGahn, Barlow said in a tweet. McGahn was an important witness in a case seeking to prove that former President Donald Trump obstructed special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“A line from her opinion in that case: ‘Presidents are not kings,’” Barlow tweeted of Jackson’s words.
Along those lines, Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia formed an advisory commission for federal nominations earlier this month. It includes James Woodall, president of the Georgia NAACP; Andrea Young, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia; and Leah Ward Sears, who will be leading the commission and formerly served as a chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court.
“The federal judicial system plays an extraordinary role in cases that impact our fundamental rights,” Sears said. “For far too long, this system has inadequately represented the great diversity of Georgia and America. I’m honored to lead Senators Ossoff and Warnock’s Commission to bring new, different, and unique perspectives to the federal nominations process and ensure all voices across Georgia are fairly represented.”
Stay tuned for more as we continue tracking how Biden delivers on his promises to Black America.
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