Biden aims to address racial wealth disparity on centennial of Tulsa massacre

President Biden on Tuesday will lay out his administration’s efforts to close the racial wealth gap during a visit to Tulsa, Okla., to mark the 100th anniversary of the Black Wall Street massacre, in which white mobs killed hundreds of Black people in the city’s Greenwood neighborhood.

Biden will announce an initiative to target federal purchasing power to benefit more minority-owned businesses, and the administration will also detail multiple housing-focused rules that strengthen anti-discrimination measures rolled back during the Trump administration, administration officials said.

The administration will expand contracting opportunities for small disadvantaged businesses, which includes minority-owned businesses. Roughly 10 percent of federal agencies’ contracting money typically goes to small disadvantaged businesses in a typical year, administration officials said.

Under the Biden proposal, the administration would aim to increase the amount of federal contracting dollars given to small disadvantaged business by 50 percent over five years, amounting to an additional $100 billion in funding for those businesses.

One administration official said increasing the pool of money for minority-owned businesses via contracting opportunities “will strongly impact lessening the racial wealth gap.”

Coinciding with Biden’s visit to Tulsa, the Department of Housing and Urban Development will announce an interagency task force to address housing discrimination. The agency will also publish two rules in the Federal Register next week that will strengthen anti-housing discrimination rules under the Fair Housing Act.

The agency is “moving to return to traditional interpretations of the Fair Housing Act,” an administration official said, reversing Trump administration efforts “to weaken its protections.”

Biden is also expected to highlight additional portions of the American Jobs Plan, his $1.7 trillion infrastructure proposal. Among the programs aimed at addressing racial inequity are a new $10 billion community revitalization fund aimed at underserved neighborhoods, $15 billion in new grants for improved transportation infrastructure and a new tax credit to attract private development in underinvested communities.

But the administration is still negotiating with Republicans on the contours of the bill, and Congress is unlikely to pass it in the exact form Biden proposes. An administration official acknowledged that the programs will need to be further fleshed out during talks with lawmakers.

Experts say one of the most direct and effective ways Biden could close the wealth gap would be to forgive student loan debt, which in many cases disproportionately affects minorities. Top Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.), have called on Biden to forgive up to $50,000 in student loan debt per person.

But Biden has resisted, saying he’s not comfortable canceling more than $10,000 in student loan debt per person. The White House has kicked the issue to the Department of Justice for a legal review for the time being.

Administration officials also demurred on whether survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre should receive reparations as some have called for. They pointed to Biden’s support for a study on the broader issue of reparations.

Biden will tour the Greenwood Cultural Center on Tuesday and meet with survivors of the 1921 massacre. He will then deliver remarks to recognize the centennial.

The president on Monday issued a proclamation commemorating the 100th anniversary of the massacre.

“The Federal Government must reckon with and acknowledge the role that it has played in stripping wealth and opportunity from Black communities,” Biden said in the proclamation.

Tags Chuck Schumer Joe Biden racial wealth gap Tulsa Massacre

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