Vice President Kamala Harris seemed at ease speaking before attendees at the NAACP National Convention. Reminding the crowd of the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to center equity across the board, she had a long list of positive actions to report on behalf of the administration.
Harris outlined several areas where the Biden-Harris administration delivered for Black Americans. While some of the more ambitious policy proposals did not make their way out of the Senate and to the president’s desk for signing, some accomplishments were worth noting.
Party decorum may keep Harris from calling out the Democratic Senators who refused to consistently support the administration’s plan or her former Republican colleagues with a toddler-like affinity for the word “no.” But a significant reason Black Americans and their counterparts around the country did not get promised relief was that a group in the Senate refused to take action.
Some people may wonder what is the point of voting if the Democrats can’t do anything with a majority. Still, the current Senate majority is a 50-50, with Harris a tie-breaking vote. It’s like playing spades with two possibles, and you’re trying not to get set.
Here are five areas where the Biden-Harris administration tried to cut through the gridlock to make a difference.
Harris noted the impact of the expanded Child Tax Credit program on Black families. Almost immediately, the monthly cash payment had a measurable effect on Black and other families of color.
An April 2022 analysis from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities noted that the Child Tax Credit monthly payments played a major role in helping families temporarily achieve economic stability.
Based on pre-pandemic measures, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities reported that 1 in 2 Black and Latino households with children “reported a major hardship such as inability to afford adequate food, shelter or utilities.”
“That Black families have disproportionately experienced this instability, historically and during the COVID-19 pandemic, reflects long-standing political isolation alongside social and economic inequality and exclusion,” read the analysis.
Another analysis found that an additional 3.7 million children lived in poverty after the expanded Child Tax Credit program expired. Over half of those children were Black and Latino. The gap between Black and white children in poverty is nearly the same as it was 52 years ago. Findings from the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University suggest more direct action is necessary to close the child poverty gap, with Black children three times more likely than white children to live in poverty.
A proud alum of Howard University, Harris mentioned the historic $5 billion in funding made available to HBCUs. This has taken many forms, including the Department of Education discharging loans owed by institutions and relief provided through the American Rescue Plan passed shortly after Harris and Biden took office in 2021.
But HBCUs have been severely underfunded and disinvested. The Build Back Better legislation would have added additional funds and resources for the schools which account for 20 percent of Black graduates, despite only making up an estimated three percent of all colleges and universities.
As reported by NewsOne, sixty-five HBCU presidents and chancellors authored a joint letter, urging Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to support the passing of Build Back Better legislation would provide historic investments for HBCUs beyond the $5 billion made available. Like the expanded child tax credit, promised funding could remain unfulfilled without a more solid majority willing to comply with the president’s plan.
The vice president spoke about efforts the address persisting inequities in health care, notably the maternal health crisis. She noted that the administration had promoted a standard of 12 months of postpartum care for state-administered Medicaid programs, working alongside several states. Black women are significantly more likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts. Several states with the highest Black maternal health rate have not expanded Medicaid and have severe abortion restrictions, thus further compromising Black women’s reproductive health.
Harris also noted the “unfinished business” that finally crossed the threshold earlier this year with the passage of the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act. While Harris and Sen. Cory Booker introduced the final version signed into law, she noted that the legislation was a collective effort of numerous individuals and organizations for a better part of a century.
Toward the end of her remarks, Harris reiterated the administration’s commitment to fighting for fundamental freedoms, namely freedom from gunviolence, freedom to make decisions about bodily autonomy and the freedom to vote. President Biden has ultimately taken action in response to demands from both voting rights and reproductive health advocates.
She also hit the religious freedom argument against supporting abortion head-on. People’s personal religious beliefs should not infringe upon the rights of others.
“And, you know, on this subject, it’s important to note that to support a woman’s ability — not her government, but her — to make that decision does not require anyone to abandon their faith or their beliefs,” Harris said. “It just requires us to agree the government shouldn’t be making that decision for her.”
Harris noted at least ten states actively restricting both the right to vote and the right to decide whether to carry a pregnancy to term.
She also highlighted the increased representation in federal court appointments and the nomination and confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. The Biden-Harris administration expanded the number of judges.
Watch her full remarks below.
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