Susan Rice Breaks Down President Biden’s Build Back Better Plan and What It Will Do for Our Community

Image: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

If you are like most working Americans, you know little or nothing at all about the President’s Build Back Better (BBB) bill and ongoing efforts to advance racial equity. Then you are doing yourself a great disservice. This isn’t politics as usual. 

How do we know? Why should you care? Let me give you two examples: insurance and your grandmother. 

If you can’t afford insurance but don’t want to go on Medicaid, there’s a remarkably affordable option to purchase marketplace insurance with a tax credit. Generally speaking, say, if you make $30,000 a year, you could pay a $5 monthly premium for an individual insurance plan that regularly costs $600 a month, depending on your zip code. The Build Back Better bill launches the biggest expansion of affordable health care in a decade. Just in time for open enrollment that started this week. “The legislation also represents the most significant effort to bring down costs and strengthen the working class in generation,” says Susan Rice, Assistant to the President & White House Domestic Policy Advisor, adding that enrollment rates have increased fivefold since 2019. “We’ve enrolled more Black Americans in the Affordable Care Act in the last 10 months, then in the last several years.”

Second, every Black person knows someone who has lost land passed down through generations because there was never a will written. An estimated 60% of Black-owned land in the South is heirs’ property—property that passes through inheritance without a will. Vulnerable to developers and timber harvesters, tax sales, and forced partition sales, it is the leading cause of involuntary land loss among Black families. Tomorrow, you can start to do something about it because President Biden signed an executive order last month to fund the Heirs’ Property Relending Program, providing funds to assist heirs in resolving ownership and succession issues on farmland with multiple owners. 

While the Build Back Better budget reconciliation bill and Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act are the huge centerpieces of Biden’s domestic agenda, the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity is one of the most ambitious and transformative approaches to advancing racial equity. “We have this year already cut the poverty rate for Black children by nearly 45%, keeping nearly 1.5 million black children out of poverty in the month of August alone,” says Rice, the “quarterback” responsible for embedding racial equity in “every aspect of our domestic policy.”

If you follow the news on a need to know basis, now is the time you need to know.

Here’s a roundup of some of the ways the White House is delivering for core constituents (in other words, you and me). Plus, the administration wants you to know, there’s much more to come.

CLEAN DRINKING WATER TO EVERY HOUSEHOLD

Why it matters: We are at the highest risk for lead exposure at home and in schools, particularly in cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, and Newark.

What’s in it: “We’ll replace all of our nation’s lead pipes and service lines,” says Rice about the infrastructure bill that also includes 10 million homes and up to 400,000 schools and childcare facilities.

GOOD-PAYING SALARIES FOR FORMERLY INCARCERATED ADULTS AND YOUNG PEOPLE

Why it matters: Many employees won’t hire (let alone recruit) people with a criminal record for a quality paying job. 

What’s in it: An executive order directing the Office of Personnel Management, which serves as the chief human resources agency for the federal government, to expand opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals to be hired as a government employee. 

GIVING BLACK FARMERS A CHANCE A JUSTICE

Why it matters: Conscious decisions to exclude Black farmers from federal relief programs along with other discriminating practices led to the drastic cut in the number from nearly 1 million who farmed in 1920 to fewer than 50,000 today.

What’s in it: Department of Agriculture (USDA) Programs and Services is required to establish one or more equity commissions to address historical discrimination and disparities.  The Equity Commission Advisory Committee will advise the Secretary of Agriculture by identifying USDA programs, policies, systems, structures, and practices that contribute to barriers to inclusion or access, systemic discrimination, or exacerbate or perpetuate racial, economic, health and social disparities.

ARE YOU CERTIFIED AS A BLACK-OWNED BUSINESS?

Why it matters: Expanded access to wealth creation through small business ownership.

What’s in it: Recognizing that the Federal government spends more than $650 billion each year on purchasing goods and services, President Biden has directed agencies to use purchasing power to grow federal contracting with small disadvantaged businesses, including Black-owned businesses, by 50%, translating to an additional $100 billion over five years, and helping more Americans realize their entrepreneurial dreams.

LARGEST FEDERAL INVESTMENT IN PUBLIC TRANSIT

Why it matters? Black workers commute by public transit at nearly 4 times the rate of white workers. In New York City, we spend 110 minutes more per week commuting to work than the average white resident.

What’s in it: Repair and upgrade of aging infrastructure; modernization of bus and rail fleets; increase access to handicap users; bringing transit service to new communities. Replacement of thousands of transit vehicles, including buses, with clean, zero emission vehicles.

CREATES A FIRST-EVER PROGRAM TO RECONNECT COMMUNITIES DIVIDEDBY INEQUITABLE TRANSPORTATION INFRASTRUCTURE

Why it matters: A significant portions of the interstate highway system were built through Black neighborhoods, destroying homes, schools, churches, and parks and causing lasting disconnection and disinvestment for residents who stayed. “We know this to be common in so many of our cities,” says Rice.

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What’s in it: “This program in the bipartisan infrastructure bill will fund planning, demolition and reconstruction of street grids build parks and other infrastructure to remedy the damage, reconnect communities and “make them home.” 

AN END TO DISCRIMINATION IN HOME APPRAISALS

Why it matters: We are less likely to get full value for our homes.

What’s in it: First-of-its-kind interagency effort with Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to right the historic wrongs of home appraisals through action and policy. 

CHILDCARE SUPPORT AND UNIVERSAL PRESCHOOL 

Why it matters:  We are two times more likely than white parents to quit, turn down or make a major major change in their job due to childcare disruptions.

What’s in it:  Families of four earning less than $300,000 will pay no more than 7% of their income on child care for children under 6. An increase in the child tax credit from $2,000 to $3,000 for children ages six and older. The credit comes in the form of monthly checks, so that parents and caregivers do not have to cover the cost up front .Access to free preschool or child care providers for all 3- and 4-year olds.

AFFORDABLE  HOUSING

Why it matters: 30% of Black renters pay more than half their income in rent.

What’s in it: The BBB framework will enable the construction, rehabilitation, and improvement of more than 1 million affordable homes, boosting housing supply and reducing price pressures for renters and homeowners. It will make investments to improve the safety, energy efficiency, and quality of existing public housing. In addition, the bill provides grants for resident-led community development projects in neighborhoods that have faced systemic disinvestment.

HISTORIC INVESTMENT IN HBCUS

Why it matters: Though they make up only three percent of the country’s colleges and universities, they produce almost 20% of all Black graduates.

What’s in it: An executive order to create a government-wide approach to support the needs of HBCUs and eliminate systemic barriers impeding HBCU participation in Federal programs. A FY22 budget request of $4 billion in R&D grants to “enable HBCUs among others to compete for resources that will enable them to become cutting edge institutions, teaching technologies of the future,” says Rice.  

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