The House has voted to pass the $1.9 trillion stimulus package, sending the bill to President Biden for approval. Onlabor has covered the passage of the bill through Congress and the provisions that it contains, including direct payments of $1,400 to individuals who make less than $75,000 or married couples who make less than $150,000, $300 weekly unemployment benefits until September 6, $350 billion in aid to state and local governments, and $14 billion for covid-19 testing and vaccinations. One notable provision of the stimulus relief package is that it will allocate billions of dollars to disadvantaged farmers, a quarter of whom are Black. Approximately $5 billion in the American Rescue Plan will go towards providing debt relief, training, education, and other forms of land assistance to disadvantaged farmers. As a result of systemic racism through the denial of credit and loans to farmers of colors, Black farmers have lost more than 12 million acres of farmland, mainly since the 1950s. According to the Center for American Progress, the average full-time White farmer made $17,190 in 2017, while the average Black farmer earned just $2,408. Advocates are praising the bill as being a step in the right direction after the mistreatment and discrimination against Black farmers by the government for the past century. Tracy Lloyd McCurty, executive director of the Black Belt Justice Center, proclaims “This is the most significant piece of legislation with respect to the arc of Black land ownership in this country.”
The Senate confirmed Rep. Marcia Fudge as Housing and Urban Development Secretary. And Fudge has her work cut out for her, as she inherits an agency amidst crisis as millions of Americans face eviction during the pandemic, the rise in homelessness, and skyrocketing housing prices. Fudge has already laid out some ambitious plans, reinforcing her commitment to fair housing and increased funding for housing programs to care for the most vulnerable populations. Being HUD secretary was not her first choice, as Fudge stated concerns that Black leadership roles have so far been confined to a handful of Cabinet positions, namely labor and HUD. However, she has since embraced the role as an opportunity to “help poor people” and “work across the aisle.” One of the initiatives that she has spoken about is a down payment assistance program, as that is one of the biggest barriers to home ownership for communities of color. While critics are concerned with Fudge’s lack of housing experience, her supporters see her as being a key figure in passing legislation targeted at minority communities and revitalizing an agency laden with budget cuts and staff attrition.
The Senate also confirmed Merrick Garland as U.S. Attorney General. Garland was the former chief judge of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, and his confirmation has been jointly praised by Democrats and Republicans. In his nomination hearing, Garland stated his commitment to fully prosecute the crimes committed during the US Capitol attack on January 6. He also pledged not to allow any due political influence on the Justice Department’s investigations.
Biden announced his intention to secure 100 million additional doses of the covid-19 single-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, supporting his goal that the United States would have acquired enough vaccine for every American adult, approximately 260 million people, by May of this year. The additional doses of vaccine will also be on hand to vaccinate children and potentially administer booster doses or reformulate as variants of the virus evolve. Senior officials spoke that the administration’s order is due to anticipation of any possible disruptions in vaccine distribution, including mutating variants of the virus and manufacturing delays. The doses are expected to be delivered in the second half of this year.
In immigration news, the Biden administration has given Venezuelans living in the United States a temporary protective status as it seeks to formulate next steps in response to Nicolas Madura’s increasingly authoritarian government. The immigrants were given an 18-month reprieve from threat of deportation and will be allowed to work legally in the United States in the meantime. Under Madura’s corrupt regime, Venezuela is seen as one of the worst humanitarian crises, with 94% of the population living in poverty. The protection would only cover those who were already in the United States as of Monday, said two senior officials. It is estimated that up to 320,000 Venezuelans are currently living in the country. This is in an effort to discourage smugglers from inducing other Venezuelans to make the dangerous journey.
The New York Times has reported research that shows the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on women’s employment levels, particularly for Hispanic and Black women. Hispanic women reported the most job losses, dropping from 12.4 million workers in February 2020 to 9.4 million in April – a 24% drop in employment. Even as our economy continues to recover, there are still 10% fewer employed Black woman than there were a year ago, but only 5% fewer employed white men. Kathryn Edwards, an economist at the RAND Corporation, attributes this disparate impact to the decline in service industries such as leisure and hospitality, “which means the most affected people this recession are the people who work in that sector, who are disproportionately women of color.” Job inequalities are not only apparent from race and gender, but also in other demographic categories such as age and education level. Younger people have regained jobs more rapidly than their seniors, and those with a bachelor’s or higher degree have also fared better during the pandemic. This data helps put our economic recovery into context on how it is uniquely impacting certain populations and what relief may be necessary to lessen the gaps of inequality.