WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s $6 trillion budget request proposes record spending to reduce historical disparities in underserved communities, following his campaign pledge to promote racial equity as an inseparable part of rebuilding the economy.
In the 1,740 pages of proposals he sent to Capitol Hill on Friday, Biden attempted to make good on campaign promises on climate, infrastructure, education and the social safety net.
Across all of those areas was a particular attention to economic and social disparities along racial and ethnic lines.
Biden’s emphasis was evident in nearly every line item of the infrastructure portions of the budget as well as others. Highway construction programs would recognize — and attempt to repair — the way previous projects often divided minority communities. Clean-water infrastructure would replace the lead pipes that poison older neighborhoods. Research and development grants would have a set-aside for historically Black colleges and universities.
But in other areas, White House officials said, the focus on equity was “built in.”
“We’re looking at implementing all of our programs with that in mind,” said Shalanda Young, Biden’s acting budget director. “This is not something we should have to call out. This is something that should be pervasive and how the government does its business.”
As a candidate and in the early days of his presidency, Biden promised to not only return the country to the economic state it was in before the coronavirus pandemic but address longstanding social justice issues. Those issues took on new urgency after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis a year ago triggered a summer of protests.
His definition of infrastructure in the two bills that address those promises is stretched far beyond where Republicans want to go and costs far more than they are willing to spend. Both sides are negotiating a compromise plan for the traditional infrastructure such as improvements to roads, bridges and airports. Congressional Democrats are pushing Biden to pass the rest in a reconciliation process that won’t require Republican support.
The budget did not provide a breakout of programs designed specifically to address racial and ethnic disparities, so there’s no accounting of the total spending. But a review of some of Biden’s biggest proposals finds some examples:
A $400 billion expansion of Medicaid would allow for better pay and benefits for community-based and home health care workers, who are disproportionately minority women.
Funding for the Indian Health Service would be increased by $2.2 billion.
The plan proposed $200 million to implement implicit bias training for health-care providers, and address the disparity in care for rural and minority women. It also proposes to spend $3 billion on programs to reduce maternal mortality among non-White women.
The most expensive items would establish new child-care programs and pay for universal paid family leave. The definition of family would include non-traditional families, helping LGBTQ parents and people with disabilities. School-lunch and summer nutrition programs would also be expanded, and a maternal health initiative would try to reduce racial disparities in deaths from childbirth.
Biden’s plan would provide as many as four additional years of public education at the beginning and end of a person’s schooling, starting with universal preschools and making community colleges and universities free. He would expand eligibility for Pell Grants to so-called Dreamers who came to the U.S. with their undocumented immigrant parents and carve out funds for historically Black colleges and tribal colleges.
At $7 billion over 10 years, one of the smallest categories of spending is teacher training. Biden’s plan would help recruit minority teachers and support teachers’ colleges in minority communities.
Roads and bridges
Minority communities are more likely to suffer from floods, drought, erosion and other effects of climate change, so mitigation and resilience efforts will be focused on those areas, the White House said.
There’s also a $15 billion program to reconnect the mostly minority and low-income neighborhoods that were torn apart by highway building projects in past decades.
A $110 million “thriving communities” initiative would focus on transportation improvements in underserved areas.
An emphasis on clean drinking water would eliminate the lead water mains that endanger the health of children in older, minority neighborhoods like Flint, Michigan, a majority Black city where thousands of children were exposed to lead-contaminated water. The $45 billion program would replace all the nation’s lead water lines.
The Biden administration aims to bridge the digital divide by providing 100% broadband access in Black and Latino communities.
The plan calls for $213 billion to build and upgrade 2 million affordable housing units with an eye toward helping communities that have faced historic housing discrimination. There’s also money to upgrade schools and federal buildings.
Biden also wants to spend $3.8 billion for grants to communities to modernize, rehabilitate or build recreation centers or commercial corridor improvement in areas that face persistent poverty.