President Joe Biden signaled his commitment to addressing racial disparities Friday, putting equity front and center in his fiscal 2022 discretionary budget request.
“The moment has come for the nation to deal with systemic racism and to ensure the promise of America is finally and fully open to all — not just some — Americans,” reads the 58-page document from the Office of Management and Budget.
The request highlights certain parts of the administration’s funding requests across 22 departments and agencies. Seventeen of those 22 sections explicitly mention new or expanded programs focused on racial disparities, inequality or civil rights.
By comparison, President Donald Trump’s 150-page fiscal year 2020 budget request did not once mention the words “race,” “racial” or “civil rights.”
The discretionary funding request is far from a comprehensive budget document, or even a “skinny” budget that previous administrations have released from time to time. It’s more of a highlight reel of the provisions the White House wants to promote the most.
In Biden’s funding request, only the sections covering the Defense Department, State Department and other international programs, Army Corps of Engineers, General Services Administration and Social Security Administration are silent on race. Out of those, Defense and State stand out. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has acknowledged the department’s lack of diversity and created a new chief diversity and inclusion officer position. While the enlisted ranks of the military are more diverse than the U.S. adult population as a whole, and officer ranks are about even, the highest ranks are disproportionately white.
Everywhere else, the OMB request finds opportunities to address systemic racism and highlight how even seemingly race-neutral laws and social norms can create disparate impacts on minorities.
If Congress granted Biden’s budgetary wishes, the EPA would invest “$936 million toward a new Accelerating Environmental and Economic Justice initiative that would help create good-paying jobs, clean up pollution, implement Justice40 and advance racial equity, and secure environmental justice for communities who too often have been left behind,” while the Department of Justice would get “$1.2 billion, an increase of $304 million, to support a range of programs supporting police-community relationships, including the Community Oriented Policing Services hiring program and programs that support community-oriented policing policies and practices, such as racial sensitivity and implicit bias training and additional support for hate crime training and police innovation programs.”
Even NASA gets in on the antiracist action: Its Office of STEM Engagement would get a $20 million bump to “expand initiatives to attract and retain underserved and underrepresented students in engineering and other STEM fields, in partnership with minority serving institutions and other higher education institutions.”
The largest race-related proposal is a $20 billion increase to the Department of Education’s grants to schools in high-poverty areas, to $36.5 billion total. Most of that extra money would help schools in predominately Black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
That would be in addition to the $125 billion for schools in the COVID-19 relief bill Biden signed in March, and another $50 billion the president’s proposing in his infrastructure and jobs package. Those funds are focused on the physical plant of schools and public health — retrofitting HVAC systems and providing personal protective equipment in the relief bill, and upgrading buildings in general in the jobs bill.
The White House also proposes large increases to the Department of Housing and Urban Development budget to address racial wealth disparities, calling for a $5.4 billion jump in housing voucher funding, a $500 million bump in homeless assistance grants, and another $500 million increase for building and rehabbing affordable rental housing.
In addition to the DOJ’s added funds for racial sensitivity training, Biden calls for increasing the budget for state and local criminal justice reforms to $1.5 billion, a $554 million boost.
The request also calls for increasing funding for the civil rights offices in seven departments and agencies.
The document’s repeated focus on equity ticked the boxes for some liberal groups, at least when it came to domestic programs. “In addition to building a world-class system of infrastructure and providing a historic level of funding for environmental justice programs, this discretionary request prioritizes racial justice, bolsters civil rights enforcement, renews public education as a priority, and supports working parents and their children through investments in child care and Head Start,” Center for American Progress Executive Vice President Mara Rudman said in a statement.
Still, other left-wing groups said they would reserve judgment until seeing the president’s full request later this spring. One issue that remains unresolved is how Biden will treat the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funds from being used to cover the cost of abortions except in limited circumstances. “BIPOC communities, immigrants, and people working to make ends meet bear the brunt of the pandemic & economic fallout, abortion coverage bans, and systemic racism. A budget that prioritizes us means a budget without the Hyde Amendment. … We need a BOLDER, better budget, free of Hyde and related abortion coverage bans,” tweeted abortion rights group All* Above All on Friday.
At her confirmation hearing to be deputy director of OMB, now acting director Shalanda Young had framed the issue in terms of racial justice.
Along with systemic racism, climate change is woven throughout the document, forming a tartan of structural concerns on the forefront of progressive minds — it’s mentioned 58 times, an average of once per page.
The Biden administration has focused on race since Day One — the president’s first executive order was on racial equity. It’s unlikely Biden would have won the Democratic primary in 2020, let alone the presidential election, without the support of Black voters. After landing the endorsement of Rep. James E. Clyburn, D.-S.C., Biden went on to dominate the South Carolina primary thanks to strong support among African Americans. After that win, many of his competitors dropped out, and Biden cruised to victory.
The COVID-19 relief package that Democrats enacted in March — not a single Republican voted for it — also included a few provisions aimed at addressing racial inequity, like $5 billion for disadvantaged farmers that would help many Black farmers.