White House press secretary Karen Jean-Pierre declined to disclose President Joe Biden’s position on federal compensation for descendants of black slaves, saying the administration feels the issue is best left to Congress.
At a press briefing on Tuesday, a reporter asked Jean-Pierre where the Biden administration stands “on reparations for slavery, segregation, and similar historical wrongs” that particularly affect black people in the United States.
She responded, “We think Congress is the proper place to consider such an action, and so we’ll leave it up to Congress to decide,” referring to a recently reintroduced federal bill examining the reparations issue.
The press secretary vigorously defended Biden’s record on racial justice issues and his commitment to them, adding, “But as far as legislation is concerned, we want to leave that in the hands of Congress.”
In January, Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, Reintroduced the S.40legislation that would create a federal commission to consider compensation proposals for people of African descent.
The White House press secretary, Karen Jean-Pierre, said on Tuesday that the Biden administration feels the issue of reparations for slavery is best left to Congress.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, has introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives, which would allocate $12 million to fund the study.
The same legislation previously failed to get her out of committee in 2021, when Democrats took control of the Senate and House, and looks unlikely to succeed in a now-divided Congress.
When the compensation bill was first introduced two years ago, the White House said Biden supported the idea of studying the issue, but did not say whether he would sign the legislation.
However, reparations for slavery was a topic of increasing political importance and divisive debate as a number of cities and states pursued their own proposals on the issue.
It wasn’t until George Floyd, a black man, was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis in 2020 that reparations movements began to gain momentum across the country.
San Francisco’s proposals are by far the most comprehensive, after a city-appointed compensation commission issued more than 100 recommendations, which received an enthusiastic response at a hearing earlier this month.
Proposals include a payment of $5 million to each eligible black adult, elimination of personal debt and tax burdens, a guarantee of an annual income of at least $97,000 for 250 years, and homes in San Francisco for just $1 per family.
The board of supervisors who have heard the proposals can vote to adopt some or all of the recommendations. There is no deadline for the decision, but the board will then take up the issue at a meeting in September.
Protesters with the Reparations Collective gather at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. to demand reparations for slavery in February 2021
Protesters gathered at the CNN Center in Atlanta to march to demand reparations for systemic injustices imposed on black people in July 2020.
A crowd listens to speakers at a reparations rally outside City Hall in San Francisco at a reparations hearing earlier this month.
San Francisco’s draft compensation plan, released in December, is unparalleled nationwide in its specificity and breadth.
The committee did not analyze the cost of the proposals, but critics have called the plan financially ruinous and politically impossible.
An estimate from Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, which tends to be conservative, said it would cost every non-Black family in the city at least $600,000.
John Dennis, chairman of the San Francisco Republican Party, criticized the proposal as irresponsible because it is impossible to fund.
“It’s completely harmless and apart from being a waste of time, it’s also a complete distraction,” he told AFP. The city’s (annual) budget is $14 billion. They’re talking about spending $50 billion. It is unreasonable.
But Amos Brown of the NAACP, a group that campaigns for racial justice, said the headlines weren’t helpful.
“Turning this case into a battle worth more than $5 million is wrong and dishonest,” he told AFP.
It does not show all the horror and pain we experienced. My position is that even though we’ve gone through about $5 million plus specific programs to promote economic development, housing, health and education.
Superintendent Shaman Walton, center left, speaks during a special Board of Supervisors hearing on compensation in San Francisco on March 14.
Several moderators said they were surprised to hear opposition from even politically liberal San Franciscans.
“These are my constituents who have lost their minds about this proposition,” Superintendent Rafael Mandelman, whose district includes Castro’s gay district, said at a hearing this month. “It’s not something we do or will do to other people.”
“It is something we will do for our future and for everyone’s collective future,” he added.
In 2020, California became the first state to form a compensation task force and is still struggling to put a price tag on what would be owed.
A number of cities are also examining potential compensation strategies, including Boston; Saint Louis; St. Paul, Minnesota; Asheville, North Carolina and Providence, Rhode Island.
Meanwhile, the city of Evanston, Illinois, is helping residents who have suffered from historic racist housing policies. It paid off some mortgages, but it also inflamed divisions between winners and losers.
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