Several federal agencies unveiled plans on Thursday aimed at minorities and other underserved communities, with the goal of expanding access to federal programs and reducing racial disparities caused by government decisions.
The plans are in response to an executive order signed by President Joe Biden on his first day in office, which directed federal agencies to reconsider how their programs may contribute to inequity.
“Advancing equity isn’t a project that can be completed in a year. In a statement released Thursday, Biden stated, “It’s a generational commitment.” “These plans represent a significant step forward in the Biden Harris administration’s efforts to make America’s promise a reality for every American, and I mean every American.”
Senior administration officials told reporters that about 90 federal agencies, including major cabinet agencies like the Department of Justice, Department of Commerce, and Department of Defense, released a “Equity Action Plan.” Increased coordination with tribal governments, expanded procurement for minority-owned small businesses, and increased civil rights enforcement were all part of the plans.
“Equity goes to the heart of our success as a nation,” Susan Rice, the head of the Domestic Policy Council who has led efforts in this area, said at a White House event on Thursday.
“Our broader economy is corroded when the average black family has one-eighth the wealth of the average white family,” Rice said. “When at least 35 percent of Americans in rural and tribal communities lack adequate high speed internet that restricts growth and competitiveness well beyond rural America, we must reject a zero-sum mentality and recognize the reality backed up by economic research, that a rising tide really does lift all boats.”
At the event, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the USDA would take steps such as allocating $350 million for no-match grant opportunities for tribal communities and other groups that have previously been unable to access department programs.
The department also intends to improve its small-farmer loan program by adding more language services and streamlining the application process. The Department of Health and Human Services intends to streamline the application process for the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition assistance program.
In a blog post, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh stated that immigrant workers, minorities, and women workers are more vulnerable to wage and hour violations. The department intends to beef up wage and hour enforcement, streamline grant application processes, and collaborate more closely with underserved community groups.
“Our economy has left far too many workers behind for far too long,” Walsh wrote.
To reduce infant mortality among Black and Native American Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program enrollees, the Department of Health and Human Services plans to increase funding for postpartum care.
The administration also issued new rulemaking guidance for agencies from the Office of Management and Budget. The memorandum applies to all executive branch rulemaking and mandates that administrative burdens such as paperwork, interviews, and recertification for public benefit programs be reduced.
The guidance would also tell agencies to think about publishing information in more languages, allowing people to communicate with agencies in a variety of ways, and providing more support for people with disabilities.
The announcements, according to senior administration officials, did not include executive actions on student loans, police powers, or voting rights. Advocates have been pleading with the Biden administration for months to forgive student loan debt and other issues.
Other steps taken by the administration include extending the student loan repayment pause until August 31 and executive actions restricting police use of chokeholds, according to a senior administration official.
On the campaign trail, Biden promised executive action to address racial equity as the coronavirus pandemic disproportionately affected minority communities and protests over Minneapolis police officer George Floyd’s killing rocked the country. Activists credited Biden’s backing from minority communities with his victories in key states like Arizona and Georgia. Nationwide, Black voters backed him by an 84 percent margin, Asian voters by a 44 percent margin and Hispanic voters by a 21 percent margin, according to an exit poll by Pew Research Center.