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Agencies announce plans for more equity in federal programs

Expanded procurement from minority-owned small businesses and more civil rights enforcement pledged

Susan Rice, Director of the Domestic Policy Council, speaks last month during the rollout of the Property Appraisals and Valuation Equity (PAVE) task force to combat racial and ethnic bias in property valuations at the White House.
Susan Rice, Director of the Domestic Policy Council, speaks last month during the rollout of the Property Appraisals and Valuation Equity (PAVE) task force to combat racial and ethnic bias in property valuations at the White House. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)

Dozens of federal agencies launched plans Thursday that focus on minority groups and other underserved communities, meant to open federal programs to more people and reduce racial disparities caused by government decisions.

The plans come in response to an executive order President Joe Biden issued on his first day in office, to get federal agencies to reassess how their programs may contribute to inequities.

“Advancing equity is not a one year project. It’s a generational commitment,” Biden said Thursday in rolling out the plans. “These plans are an important step forward, reflecting the Biden Harris administration’s work to make the promise of America real for every American and I mean every American.”

About 90 federal agencies released an “Equity Action Plan,” senior administration officials told reporters, including major cabinet agencies like the Department of Justice, Department of Commerce and Department of Defense. Across agencies, the plans included steps like increased coordination with tribal governments, broadening procurement for minority-owned small businesses and increasing civil rights enforcement.

Susan Rice, the head of the Domestic Policy Council who has led efforts in this area, said at a White House event Thursday that “equity goes to the heart of our success as a nation.”

“When the typical black family has just one-eighth the wealth of the typical white family, that corrodes our broader economy,” 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.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said at the event that the Department of Agriculture would take steps like setting aside $350 million for no-match grant opportunities for tribal communities and other groups that have not had the resources to access department programs in the past.

The department also plans to beef up its loan program for small farmers by providing more language services and simplifying the application process. That department plans to reduce the process for applying to the Women, Infants and Children nutrition assistance program.

Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh in a blog post noted immigrant workers, minority workers and women workers are more vulnerable to violations like wage and hour theft. The department plans to increase wage and hour enforcement, simplify grant application processes and work more closely with community groups in underserved areas.

“For far too long, our economy has left far too many workers behind,” Walsh wrote.

The Department of Heath and Human Services plans to increase funding for postpartum care to reduce infant mortality for Black and Native American enrollees in Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The administration also released new Office of Management and Budget rulemaking guidance for agencies. The memorandum covers all executive agencies’ rulemakings and requires them to reduce administrative burdens like paperwork, interviews and recertification for public benefit programs.

The guidance would also direct agencies to consider publishing information in more languages, let people communicate with agencies through multiple means and provide more support for people with disabilities.

Senior administration officials said the announcements did not include executive actions on student loans, police powers or voting rights. Advocates have pushed the Biden administration to forgive student loan debt and other issues for months.

A senior administration official pointed to other steps the administration has taken like extending the student loan repayment pause through Aug. 31 and executive actions restricting police use of chokeholds.

Biden promised executive action to address racial equity on the campaign trail as the coronavirus pandemic disproportionately hit minority communities and protests over Minneapolis police’s killing of George Floyd 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.

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