Michael D. Shear, New York Times, May 29, 2021
Six days after his inauguration, President Biden vowed that his administration would see everything through the lens of racial equality, making it “the business of the whole of government.”
On Friday, his $6 trillion budget began to make good on that promise.
Sprinkled throughout the president’s enormous spending plan are scores of programs amounting to tens of billions of dollars intended to specifically bolster the fortunes of Black people, Asian people, tribal communities and other historically underserved groups in the United States.
Mr. Biden is not the first president to spend money on such programs. And civil rights advocates said the budget released on Friday fell short in some critical areas like student loans, where they say even more money is needed to rectify a longstanding lack of fairness and a lopsided burden being carried by people of color.
“It’s going in the right direction, but it’s not a perfect document,” said Derrick Johnson, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., who said he was disappointed that the president’s budget did not call for canceling student loan debt, which falls disproportionately on Black Americans.
That idea — of focusing special attention on the distribution of taxpayer money across racial groups — has never been approached as methodically as it has this year by Mr. Biden, advocates say. Asked about the president’s equity agenda on Friday, Shalanda Young, the president’s acting budget director, said her department had “built that in” to the overall spending plan by giving “clear directions to our agencies that they are to use that lens as they implement these programs.”
“This is not something we should have to call out,” she said. “This is something that should be pervasive in how the government does its business.”
Much of the president’s vast budget directs spending that is not explicitly distributed based on race: health care, education, the military, transportation, agriculture, retirement programs and foreign policy, among other areas.
But within all of those programs, Mr. Biden’s team has proposed increased spending with the goal of ensuring that people of color and others who are often left behind get a bigger share of the overall pie.
Among the budget items, big and small, that are driven by equity:
- $3 billion to reduce maternal mortality and to end race-based disparities in maternal mortality.
- $15 billion for Highways to Neighborhoods, a program that would reconnect neighborhoods cut off by infrastructure projects developed decades ago.
- $900 million to fund tribal efforts to expand affordable housing.
- $936 million for an Accelerating Environmental and Economic Justice initiative at the Environmental Protection Agency.
- $110 million for a Thriving Communities initiative, to foster transportation equity through grants to underserved communities.
- $39 billion for tuition subsidies to low- and middle-income students attending historically Black colleges and universities and those serving other minority groups.
Still, for all of Mr. Biden’s forceful rhetoric — he once pledged to no longer allow “a narrow, cramped view of the promise of this nation to fester” — his administration made little effort on Friday to focus attention on that principle or to highlight details about how an equity-driven approach would change the way the government spends its money.
That left some of the public relations work to civil rights groups and other advocates, who quickly pointed to examples of spending that would benefit communities who had traditionally been left behind by previous presidents.