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By Deon Osborne, Nate Morris, and Nehemiah Frank
GREENWOOD, Okla. — A month ago, President Joe Biden became the first president to visit historic Black Wall Street in Tulsa’s Greenwood District. During his visit, Biden commemorated the 1921 massacre and announced initiatives to address systemic racism. This week, as the White House prepares for a Senate vote on Biden’s signature American Jobs Plan, The Black Wall Street Times spoke with Cedric Richmond, senior advisor to the president, about the racial equity components within the more than $1 trillion investment plan.
President Biden first announced the plan in April as a $2 trillion strategy to significantly enhance the nation’s infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, over the next decade. The plan faced steep opposition from Republicans in the Senate, where a 60-vote majority is needed to prevent a filibuster.
Bipartisan bill finalized as infrastructure disasters take place
After months of intense debate and negotiations, a bipartisan group of Democrats and Republicans settled on a $1.2 trillion compromise plan that invests $579 billion directly into new physical infrastructure over the next eight years. In its current form, the bipartisan deal represents the largest, long-term infrastructure investment in this nation in nearly a century.
Movement on the bill in the Senate comes amid elevating incidents of aging infrastructure failing as climate change intensifies. Following the deadly condo collapse in Miami last Thursday, experts warned of additional structure failures amid rising sea levels. In Memphis, the massive I-40 bridge over the Mississippi River has been shut down for emergency repairs after crews discovered a massive crack in its structure. And in Portland, street car cables melted and roads buckled in a searing, record-setting heatwave.
Discussing the elements of the bill meant to address systemic inequalities, Richmond said racial equity is “a piece of the American Jobs Plan.”
“But the American Jobs Plan was written by the president with racial equity in mind just like the American Rescue Plan was and the same way the American Families Plan will be,” Richmond added.
Racial Equity in the American Jobs Plan
The ambitious and costly goals listed within the plan include delivering high speed internet to every American household ($65 billion), improving water infrastructure by eliminating lead pipes to deliver clean drinking water to every household ($55 billion), investing significantly in revamping public transit ($56 billion) and even providing funding for cities to reconnect communities that have been divided by interstate highway systems ($1 billion).
Richmond noted that African-American and other underserved communities suffer disproportionately from the decades-long lack of equitable investment in infrastructure.
“There’s money in here to undo those physical barriers in infrastructures that actually hurt or segregated communities and then led to the lack of investment over the years,” Richmond told TheBWSTimes.
Notably, the City of Tulsa has recently begun seeking public input on what to do with the segment of I-244 that runs directly through the heart of Black Wall Street in the historic Greenwood District. Concrete walls prop up the highway where the famous Dreamland Theatre once stood.
City councilors previously said they’re hoping to have a plan in place by the fall for potentially removing the highway. Like many communities across the U.S., it runs directly through a marginalized neighborhood. Councilors noted that they need federal funding to make any changes.
“So, we put money in the American Jobs plan for that. Communities will decide what they wanna do, how they wanna do it, then they’ll apply for money from us so that we can give it to them to do that,” Richmond said.
Largest investment in infrastructure in decades
While Senate Republicans pressured Biden to increase the gas tax, the president resisted. He pledged to ensure that middle class American families would not see their taxes increase as a result of this public works bill.
Unspent CARES and American Rescue Plan dollars will cover a portion of the bill’s cost. Both Republicans and Democrats agree that the bill should be deficit-neutral and not add to the national debt.
“So, what we’re trying to do is make sure that the things that we’re implementing are things that actually make a difference in people’s lives,” Richmond said.
While in Greenwood, Biden teased some aspects of the proposals. He mentioned that the share of federal contracts going to small and disadvantaged businesses from 10% to 15%.
“That five percent increase is worth $100 billion over five years. So, we want to invest in our small Black and brown businesses so they can participate in this infrastructure work,” Richmond said.
In an effort to reassure Black Americans that Biden is “practicing what he preaches” when it comes to weaving racial equity into all aspects of his administration, White House Senior Advisor Cedric Richmond said that even though the plan will take years to complete, the best way to move forward is for Congress to pass the plan so that the work can immediately begin.
“We want to be a transformational presidency. We want people to be empowered,” Richmond said.