WASHINGTON — Six days after his inauguration, President Biden vowed that his administration would see everything through the lens of racial equality, making it “the business of the whole of government.”
On Friday, his $6 trillion budget began to make good on that promise.
Sprinkled throughout the president’s enormous spending plan are scores of programs amounting to tens of billions of dollars intended to specifically bolster the fortunes of Black people, Asian people, tribal communities and other historically underserved groups in the United States.
Mr. Biden is not the first president to spend money on such programs. And civil rights advocates said the budget released on Friday fell short in some critical areas like student loans, where they say even more money is needed to rectify a longstanding lack of fairness and a lopsided burden being carried by minorities.
“It’s going in the right direction, but it’s not a perfect document,” said Derrick Johnson, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., who said he was disappointed that the president’s budget did not call for canceling student loan debt, which falls disproportionately on Black Americans.
But he added that his organization was pleased that the president was “continuing to make one of his priorities equity” via the budget.
That idea — of focusing special attention on the distribution of taxpayer money across racial groups — has never been approached as methodically as it has this year by Mr. Biden, advocates say. Asked about the president’s equity agenda on Friday, Shalanda Young, the president’s acting budget director, said her department had “built that in” to the overall spending plan by giving “clear directions to our agencies that they are to use that lens as they implement these programs.”
“This is not something we should have to call out,” she said. “This is something that should be pervasive in how the government does its business.”
Much of the president’s vast budget directs spending that is not explicitly distributed based on race: health care, education, the military, transportation, agriculture, retirement programs and foreign policy, among other areas.
But within all of those programs, Mr. Biden’s team has proposed increased spending with the goal of ensuring that people of color and others who are often left behind get a bigger share of the overall pie.
Among the budget items, big and small, that are driven by equity:
$3 billion to reduce maternal mortality and to end race-based disparities in maternal mortality.
$15 billion for “Highways to Neighborhoods,” a program that would reconnect neighborhoods cut off by infrastructure projects developed decades ago.
$900 million to fund Tribal efforts to expand affordable housing.
$936 million for an Accelerating Environmental and Economic Justice initiative at the Environmental Protection Agency.
$110 million for a Thriving Communities initiative, to foster transportation equity through grants to underserved communities.
$39 billion for tuition subsidies to low- and middle-income students attending historically Black colleges and universities and those serving other minority groups.
Mr. Biden foreshadowed that kind of budgetary decision-making in his first days in office. In a speech announcing his “equity agenda,” the president said he was committed to going further than his predecessors when it came to considering groups that had, in his words, been too often left behind.
“We need to open the promise of America to every American,” he said during the speech on Jan. 26. “And that means we need to make the issue of racial equity not just an issue for any one department of government.”
That approach has incited anger from conservatives, who accuse the president and his advisers of pursuing a racist agenda against white Americans. Fox News ran a headline accusing Mr. Biden of trying to “Stoke Nationwide Division With ‘Racial Equity’ Push.” And The New York Post published an editorial, titled “In Push for Woke ‘Equity,’ Biden Abandons Equality,” that accused the president of being “un-American.”
A group called America First Legal, which is run by Stephen Miller and Mark Meadows, two top aides to former President Donald J. Trump, won a preliminary injunction this week from a Texas judge against an effort by Mr. Biden’s Small Business Administration to prioritize grants from its $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund to businesses owned by minorities or underserved groups.
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“This order is another powerful strike against the Biden administration’s unconstitutional decision to pick winners and losers based on the color of their skin,” the group said in a statement.
The president appears unlikely to back down. In a speech days after his inauguration, he vowed that “every White House component, and every agency will be involved in this work because advancing equity has to be everyone’s job.”
Still, for all of Mr. Biden’s forceful rhetoric — he once pledged to no longer allow “a narrow, cramped view of the promise of this nation to fester” — his administration made little effort on Friday to focus attention on that principle or to highlight details about how an equity-driven approach would change the way the government spends its money.
Biden’s 2022 Budget
- A new year, a new budget: The 2022 fiscal year for the federal government begins on October 1, and President Biden has revealed what he’d like to spend, starting then. But any spending requires approval from both chambers of Congress.
- Ambitious total spending: President Biden would like the federal government to spend $6 trillion in the 2022 fiscal year, and for total spending to rise to $8.2 trillion by 2031. That would take the United States to its highest sustained levels of federal spending since World War II, while running deficits above $1.3 trillion through the next decade.
- Infrastructure plan: The budget outlines the president’s desired first year of investment in his American Jobs Plan, which seeks to fund improvements to roads, bridges, public transit and more with a total of $2.3 billion over eight years.
- Families plan: The budget also addresses the other major spending proposal Biden has already rolled out, his American Families Plan, aimed at bolstering the United States’ social safety net by expanding access to education, reducing the cost of child care and supporting women in the work force.
- Mandatory programs: As usual, mandatory spending on programs like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare make up a significant portion of the proposed budget. They are growing as America’s population ages.
- Discretionary spending: Funding for the individual budgets of the agencies and programs under the executive branch would reach around $1.5 trillion in 2022, a 16 percent increase from the previous budget.
- How Biden would pay for it: The president would largely fund his agenda by raising taxes on corporations and high earners, which would begin to shrink budget deficits in the 2030s. Administration officials have said tax increases would fully offset the jobs and families plans over the course of 15 years, which the budget request backs up. In the meantime, the budget deficit would remain above $1.3 trillion each year.
During a news conference to introduce the budget on Friday, Ms. Young and Cecilia Rouse, the chairwoman of the White House’s National Economic Council — both of whom are Black women — did not mention the president’s equity agenda until a reporter asked about it toward the end.
And the budget itself does not try to quantify the effect of following the president’s guidance to make decisions based on a sense of racial equity. There is no “equity” section of the budget. Aides did not send out fact sheets to reporters on Friday promoting the “equity spending” in the president’s inaugural budget.
That left some of the public relations work to civil rights groups and other advocates, who quickly pointed to examples of spending that would benefit communities who had traditionally been left behind by previous presidents.
Sara Chieffo, the chief lobbyist for the League of Conservation Voters, an pro-environment group, pointed to the $936 million Accelerating Environmental and Economic Justice initiative at the Environmental Protection Agency, which is aimed at cleaning up the environment in underserved communities.
“The importance of this administration’s proposal to make the largest-ever investment in communities of color and low-income communities who have been subjected to environmental racism for decades cannot be overstated,” Ms. Chieffo said.
Marcela Howell, the president of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, praised the president for investing in programs that specifically benefit Black women.
“Kudos also go to President Biden for funding important programs to address racial equity and economic security,” she said in a statement, adding that “we applaud the proposed investments in infrastructure and job creation, affordable child care and work force training, education” and more.
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America issued a statement thanking Mr. Biden for what the group called “important investments” that it said would help to “address the maternal mortality crisis and its devastating impact in communities of color.”