There is an interesting fight brewing in Congress after various cities indicated that they may not only pay reparations but use federal pandemic funds for such payments. There has been a long call for federal reparations with various Democratic bills introduced in Congress. BET founder Robert Johnson has called for $14 trillion in federal reparations. However, cities like Providence, Rhode Island are not waiting. They insist that federal reparations funds are already effectively approved as part of their pandemic relief.
We have been discussing how California’s Reparations Task Force has presented a bill for $569 billion for reparations while cities like San Francisco have a reparation board demanding $5 million per eligible black resident.
Other cities are saying that the federal government can foot the bill. They are relying on massive payments of federal money under the American Rescue Plan (ARP). They insist that Congress put so few conditions on the money that they can use it for reparations.
The $1.9 billion dollars in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 was passed on a loose mandate to encourage economic stimulus and deal with the economic and health effects of the pandemic and ongoing recession. Advocates are arguing that the pandemic exacerbated the lingering effects of slavery for the Black community. Every Republican (and one Democrat, Jared Golden of Maine) voted against the Act.
FOX Business reported that Providence, Rhode Island has already dedicated $10 million in pandemic relief toward creating the Providence Municipal Reparations Commission to address “racial equity.” Likewise, officials in Shelby County, Tennessee (where Memphis is located) voted to spend $5 million to study the possibility of a long-term reparations program. The county said it may use pandemic funds for the effort.
Other cities are moving forward with reparation task forces, including most recently Boston. As in cities like San Francisco, the Boston reparations will cover not just slavery but more “recent” housing and economic inequities. Mayor Michelle Wu declared “For four hundred years, the brutal practice of enslavement and recent policies like redlining, the busing crisis, and exclusion from City contracting have denied Black Americans pathways to build generational wealth, secure stable housing, and live freely.”
Likewise, this week, Washtenaw County in Ann Arbor, Michigan approved its own commission based on reparations approved by cities like Evanston, Illinois. It was described as “An evolution of an exploratory committee led by the Racial Equity Office, the Advisory Council on Reparations will be a perpetual body of Commissioner appointed subject matter experts representing relevant sectors.”
Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) introduced a new federal reparations bill that would create a new federal commission similar to those of states like California. It is supported by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Chris Coons (D-DE), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Patty Murray (D-WA).
Some 190 organizations now support federal reparations including the ACLU and Amnesty International.