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The departments said they will do more to address systemic racism in their programs and procedures and work more closely on these efforts with localities.
The Biden administration on Thursday unveiled plans by all federal agencies to move to eliminate systemic racism from the way they operate, most notably by sending more dollars to disadvantaged communities.
The plans follow an executive order Biden signed hours after he was sworn into office, telling the agencies to “recognize and work to redress inequities in their policies and programs that serve as barriers to equal opportunity.”
For the most part, the agencies “equity action plans” focus on changing procedures and working more closely with localities, things that won praise from local leaders. “Consistent intergovernmental partnerships and new initiatives can help counties achieve our shared priorities related to equity and justice,” said Brian Namey, spokesman for the National Association of Counties.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg praised the effort as “historic” and said it “clearly demonstrates the administration’s continued commitment to advancing equity and racial justice.” Nirenberg chairs the U.S. Conference of Mayors' Mayors and Business Leaders Center for Compassionate and Equitable Cities.
The federal agencies committed to, among other things, doing more to take input from disadvantaged communities into consideration; award more government contracts to small, disadvantaged communities; and track how federal policies affect inequalities—something the Department of Health and Human Services acknowledged it does not do.
“HHS currently lacks the data and equity assessment capacity to consistently identify and address inequities in health and human services,” the department said.
In its plan, the Department of Transportation acknowledged “it is important to recognize that past federal transportation investments have too often failed to address inequities, or even made them worse.”
The Transportation Department pledged to develop a way to measure how lower-income people spend a much larger share of their income on transportation than others do. The measurement, it said, will be taken into consideration in funding and other decisions.
“The transportation cost burden experienced by people is influenced by numerous factors, including living in transit deserts created by infrastructure and land use policies that favor car-ownership over multimodal options,” the department wrote.
Similarly, the Environmental Protection Agency said it would “ensure” that “investments in infrastructure and pollution remediation benefit disadvantaged and underserved communities,” which aligns with Biden's “Justice40” goal of making sure that 40% of certain federal funding benefits disadvantaged communities.
Other agencies, including the Department of Agriculture and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, also committed to meeting the Justice40 goals. FEMA said it will create pilot programs aimed at providing more help to disadvantaged areas to mitigate the damage caused by natural disasters.
“With the increasing severity and frequency of disasters and their disproportionate impact on underserved communities, it is essential to identify mitigation opportunities to help build capability and capacity to address the impacts of climate change,” FEMA said.
Meanwhile, the Department of Housing and Urban Development said in its plan that federal housing policies have for decades “enabled discriminatory practices against people of color and members of underserved communities.” HUD said, among other things, that it is developing a framework to partner with federal agencies and communities to help increase equity in the deployment of federal funding.
The agencies’ equity action plans come at a time when many states, cities and counties are reviewing policies and procedures and revising them to make them more equitable for all residents.
“Entrenched disparities in our laws and public policies, and in our public and private institutions, have often denied equal opportunity to individuals and communities,” Biden wrote in his order. “Advancing equity requires a systematic approach to embedding fairness in decision-making processes.”
Kery Murakami is a senior reporter for Route Fifty.