Administration

Racial justice groups press Biden to form reparations commission

President Biden speaks to the media
Associated Press/Evan Vucci
President Biden speaks to the media before boarding Air Force One for a trip to Alabama to visit a Lockheed Martin plant on May 3, 2022, in Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

Racial justice groups and other organizations are pressing President Biden to use his executive authority to form a federal commission to study and develop reparations proposals for African Americans, as legislation calling for similar action has stalled in Congress for more than a year.

In a letter to Biden this week, the Why We Can’t Wait Coalition —  which is composed of groups like Color of Change, Human Rights Watch, the Black Voters Matter Fund and more — pushed for Biden to establish “by Juneteenth an expert commission like that which would be established by a bill in Congress, H.R. 40.”

The groups are referring to legislation that passed the House Judiciary Committee in a historic vote last year that would have similarly set up a federal exploratory commission on reparations. 

“As 365 civil rights, human rights, and faith-based organizations and dozens of activists, leaders and celebrities that support H.R. 40 pointed out in a letter on February 4, addressing pervasive anti-Black racism and providing reparations, long overdue, cannot wait another day, year, or decade,” they wrote. “We are in a once-in-a-lifetime moment that we cannot let slip away if we are to begin the process of repair.”

Around the time of the bill’s passage in the House panel last year, the legislation was said to have racked up 180 co-sponsors in the lower chamber. Now, supporters say that figure has risen to 215.

But to pass the bill, which Republicans have overwhelmingly opposed in both chambers, Democrats would need 216 votes in the House. And the bill faces an even tougher battle in the Senate, where Democrats would need the votes of all their members and at least 10 Republicans to avoid a likely filibuster.

In their letter, the groups acknowledged the Senate dynamics and point to the closing window Democrats have to act on the legislation in the current congressional session, with the midterm elections just months away.

As the clock ticks on the current Congress, the groups said in the letter that they want Biden “to work with supporting organizations and House sponsors of H.R. 40 to set up the same commission by executive order by Juneteenth this year.”

“Juneteenth presents you with an important opportunity to commemorate the end of enslavement while also recognizing much more still needs to be done to create equity and real opportunity for African Americans in the US beyond declaring a national holiday,” the groups wrote.

“The Black to white racial wealth gap remains vast, with white households having a median of $188,200, 7.8 times that of Black households at $24,100, a vestige of the legacy of enslavement—which can find its roots in redlining, the Homestead Act, and denying Black people access to federally backed home mortgages—and the failure to address the exploitation, segregation, and violence unleashed on Black people that followed,” the letter stated.

“Moreover, the ongoing impacts of enslavement have resulted in deep psychological harms, including by way of forced separation and collective trauma, which require comprehensive remedy,” they continued. “The Covid-19 pandemic has only widened the inequality. It is also important that this commission be established by Juneteenth so that it can start working and issue recommendations before the next presidential elections.”

By creating the commission, the groups say Biden has an opportunity to make good on the promises he and Vice President Harris “made to Black voters outlined in the Lift Every Voice: The Biden Plan for Black America,’” in which the president pushes for “a study of the continuing impacts of slavery” and “of reparations.”

The Hill has reached out to the White House for comment.

The letter featured signatures from nearly 30 advocacy groups and organizations, including the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, the Reparation Education Project, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Faith for Black Lives, the Black Church PAC, the National Consumers League, Reparations 4 Slavery and Until Freedom.

Tags Biden Color of Change Human Rights Watch Joe Biden Juneteenth Reparations
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