White House takes hard look in mirror to address destructive racial inequities

The White House convened a meeting with all federal agencies—including all Cabinet-level agencies—to unveil its first-ever Equity Action Plans, an effort to fulfill government responsibility to address racial inequities that are destructive.

On his first day in office, President Joe Biden signed Executive Order 13985, which directed the entire federal government to advance an ambitious agenda in pursuit of justice.

“The promise of our nation is that every American has an equal chance to get ahead, yet persistent systemic racism and barriers to opportunity have denied this promise for so many,” said Biden.

Today, more than 90 federal agencies, including all Cabinet-level agencies, are releasing the first-ever Equity Action Plans that lay out more than 300 concrete strategies and commitments to address the systemic barriers in our nation’s policies and programs that hold too many underserved communities back from prosperity, dignity, and equality.

The plans provide a roadmap for the federal government to begin addressing the systemic barriers in policy that prevent underserved communities from achieving the prosperity and dignity that many Americans take for granted.

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Normalizing conversations about race, and making sure Americans have a shared understanding of commonly held definitions of implicit bias or institutional and structural racism, will help reduce the vulnerability among audiences that have been exploited by forces that seek to divide Americans.

“I applaud the Biden-Harris Administration for its extraordinary efforts to ensure racial equity is at the forefront of federal policymaking,” said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. “We have seen the impact that systemic racism has on Black Americans’ and other minorities’ access to basic needs such as housing, employment, and health care.”

“While governments may consider themselves fair and just, people of color fare worse than their white counterparts in every area: housing, employment, education, justice, and health,” said progressive Democrat Lisa McCormick, who welcomed the Biden administration’s self-assessment. “Current-day disparities are just as bad and sometimes worse than they were before the Civil Rights era.”

Critics have called on federal agencies in recent years to ensure that they identify barriers to fairness in the current system and instead advance policies that make the federal government work for everyone.

“Racial equity is a lens that we should bring to every policy decision, at every level of government, and that starts right at the top,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley. “I appreciate that the Administration is following through on the commitment to center equity across the federal government and heeding our calls to collect and report the data necessary to advance racial justice in federal policymaking.”

“This whole-of-government initiative will help federal agencies address the disparate and systemic harm inflicted on people of color,” said Pressley. “Systems change is possible when we lean into the power and authority of the federal government and today’s announcement is historic.”

The Department of Labor is strengthening the enforcement of our nation’s wage and hour protections to support underserved workers who are the most vulnerable to wage theft and violations, especially women of color, and is in the process of launching a new initiative to address barriers that workers of color face in equitably accessing Unemployment Insurance benefits.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development is working to eliminate the racial gap in homeownership, address the disproportionate rates of homelessness among underserved communities, and reduce bias in home appraisals through the interagency Task Force on Property Appraisal and Valuation Equity.

The Environmental Protection Agency is developing a comprehensive framework for evaluating the cumulative impacts of pollution on underserved, low-income communities. EPA will also reinvigorate civil rights enforcement to ensure that environmental justice is at the heart of the agency’s mission.

The Department of Transportation is increasing investments in underserved communities by launching a national technical assistance center to provide targeted support with planning, project development, grant applications, and project delivery for communities that face barriers to accessing transportation resources.

The Department of Justice is improving language access to its programs so that Americans with limited English proficiency can better report crimes, access services, understand their rights, and otherwise have full and equal access to the Department’s programs and resources.

The Department of the Interior is providing technical assistance to Tribes to help them navigate grant application processes, and partnering with Tribal Colleges and Universities to build capacity for Tribes to apply for funding.

The Department of Commerce is investing nearly $50 billion in broadband infrastructure deployment, affordability, and digital inclusion efforts to help close the digital divide, particularly for rural and Tribal communities.

The Department of Health and Human Services is increasing outreach to communities of color to encourage enrollment in free and low-cost health care, and is addressing the maternal mortality crisis that disproportionately impacts Black and Native families, including by working with states to extend postpartum coverage in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The Department of Homeland Security is working to ensure that underserved communities are treated fairly in airport screenings by improving systems and enhancing training for officers. DHS is also engaging with and improving underserved communities’ access to grant programs that help counter domestic violent extremism to better address the terrorism-related threat to our country posed by white supremacists and other domestic terrorists.

The Department of Defense is advancing the safe and equitable use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to mitigate algorithmic bias by investing in agency-wide responsible AI development and investing in the development of a more diverse AI workforce, including through partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs).

The State Department is increasing engagement with partners from underserved racial and ethnic communities, applying new equity analyses, and improving demographic data collection and analysis to better embed equity and gender equality into U.S. foreign policies.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is advancing health equity by further addressing the social and economic determinants of health for underserved veterans, including veterans of color, women veterans, and LGBTQI+ veterans. The Department is also launching a Data for Equity strategy, a veteran-centered model that will synchronize data on health care, disability benefits, and other services to identify and address gaps.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expanding equitable access to nutrition assistance programs and strengthening gender equity by implementing a national awareness campaign and expanding the implementation of online ordering in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program.

The Department of Education is advancing college access and college completion by investing in HBCUs, TCCUs, MSIs, community colleges, and other under-resourced public institutions, and supporting schools to raise college completion rates for underserved students.

The Department of Energy is ensuring equitable access to weatherization assistance programs so that low-income households have increased access to energy security.

The Small Business Administration is investing in improved technology to increase access to capital for businesses in underserved communities and minority-owned businesses by streamlining program applications and integrating data.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is releasing Earth science data in more accessible formats, and providing free, multi-lingual training on how to use government data to help mitigate environmental challenges in underserved communities. The space agency will also conduct an analysis to identify and address barriers to awards of its grants to HBCUs and MSIs.

The Social Security Administration is identifying inequalities and addressing systemic administrative barriers to participation in key safety net programs, such as disability benefits, and ensuring equitable service delivery for unrepresented individuals navigating the disability application appeals process, and increase gender equity in its services.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is closing the flood insurance gap to increase the financial resilience of flood-prone, low-income households. FEMA is also promoting equitable outcomes for disaster survivors by increasing eligibility for and access to assistance programs for underserved and vulnerable applicants.

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