At Risk Communities Could Receive Funding Lifeline

Congressional Democrats finally have a plan to pave the way for reparations and deliver financial aid to some of the neediest communities in the United States. House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker are introducing An Act Targeting Resources into Communities in Need. The act aims to be part of a sweeping change in how America treats its poorest citizens.

“While genius is spread equally across zip codes, opportunity is not,” Booker said in a press release. “This bill more strategically targets federal resources to where they are needed most, ensuring that families and communities long left behind are given a fair shot. In doing so, we can move to a smarter, more responsive government.”

The highlight of the bill is its “10-20-30” plan, something that the bill’s co-sponsors have been proposing since late last year. Under the formula, 10 percent of federal funds of a particular program go to “persistent” poverty counties — those in which the poverty level has been 20 percent or higher over the past 30 years, according to a release from Clyburn's office.

The proposal from Clyburn and Booker represents one of the most productive efforts at a modern reparations program, according to Guy Emerson Mount, an assistant professor of African American history at Auburn University and associate editor at Black Perspectives.

“Reparations are much more than an individual check cut by a presumably legitimate state. Reparations are not a policy but a process — a way of doing justice that has no fixed endpoint,” Mount told The North Star. “Serious reparations theorists consider reparations... as a way of life — a method of righting wrongs both big and small — that must be cultivated and developed in sharp opposition to our current punitive justice framework.”

He added, “In the case of seeking reparations for the violence that racial capitalism continues to inflict on the descendants of enslaved peoples, the whole system of harm has to be abolished and repaired.”

Mount has written that reparations may be “the great American reset button,” and, if done properly, could be achieved without causing racial resentment, which would wind up hurting Black Americans moving forward. Potential backlash has caused Mount to be generally skeptical of reparations systems.

“What we are witnessing are the first steps of an elite capture of reparations,” Mount said. “Reparations don't happen from the top down. They are not something given, but something demanded by those who have been harmed. We don't need a bunch of centrist politicians trying to limit the possibilities of reparations or fit them into their technocratic/bureaucratic framework.”

Mount also wrote that “jumping to a hierarchical, state-heavy, compulsory, universal, one-size fits all reparations plan will almost certainly lead to an elite-captured, watered-down, conventional ‘solution’ with disastrous long term results.”

The legacy of slavery and racist policies exist to this very day. When Social Security — one of the biggest pieces of 20th century economic benefits — was created, African Americans were effectively shut out from being able to take advantage of the program that gave elderly Americans pensions. That, according to political science professor Ira Katznelson, was by design. The bill was changed in committee to exclude farm workers and domestic workers — two professions that were heavily represented by minorities at the time. (Katzenelson's findings were disputed by the Social Security Administration's historians, who wrote that racial implications were not considered by Congress when they passed the law.)

Today, there's a massive wealth gap between rich, mainly white neighborhoods, and poor, heavily minority communities. The wealth gap starts in schools, where funding disparities create two distinct structures. A study by EdBuild found that nonwhite school districts received $23 billion less than white school districts, even as both had the same number of students. “The majority of America’s school children still attend racially concentrated school systems,” the study noted; 27 percent of students are enrolled in predominantly nonwhite districts, while 26 percent of students attend predominantly white districts.

“Race and class are inextricably linked in the US. When comparing the poverty level of racially concentrated systems, a clear divide emerges. Predominantly white districts are far better off than their heavily nonwhite peers. These statistics confirm what we know about income inequality and the effects of segregation,” EdBuild wrote.

Such segregation is the result of policies on voting, housing, and more which have “drawn lines and divided our communities.” Twenty percent of US students are enrolled in districts that are both poor and nonwhite, the study continued, but just 5 percent of students live in white districts that are equally financially challenged. If done correctly, the Clyburn/Booker plan could provide long-term stability and fixes. If so, the key would have to make sure that it's not the solution to the problem — just a tool being used. As Mount noted, “reparations are a technique — not a campaign.”

About the Author

Jeremy Binckes is an experienced writer and editor who has reported on news, politics, culture, and sports. He was most recently a news editor at Salon, and he has written articles for a number of publications.