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How Biden’s $2tn infrastructure plan seeks to achieve racial justice

Joe Biden has said his $2tn plan to rebuild America’s “crumbling” roads, bridges, railways and other infrastructure would rival the space race in its ambition and deliver economic and social change on a scale as grand as the New Deal. The president has also vowed his “once-in-a-generation” investment will reverse long-standing racial disparities exacerbated by past national mobilizations.

Embedded in his sprawling infrastructure agenda, the first part of which Biden unveiled this week, are hundreds of billions of dollars dedicated to projects and investments the administration says will advance racial equity in employment, housing, transportation, healthcare and education, while improving economic outcomes for communities of color.

“This plan is important, not only for what and how it builds but it’s also important to where we build,” Biden said at a union carpenters’ training facility outside Pittsburgh last week. “It includes everyone, regardless of your race or your zip code.”

His proposal would replace lead pipes and service lines that have disproportionately harmed Black children; reduce air pollution that has long harmed Black and Latino neighborhoods near ports and power plants; “reconnect” neighborhoods cut off by previous transportation projects; expand affordable housing options to allow more families of color to buy homes, build wealth and eliminate exclusionary zoning laws; rebuild the public housing system; and prioritize investments in “frontline” communities whose residents are predominantly people of color often first- and worst-affected by climate change and environmental disaster.

The plan also allocates $100m in workforce development programs targeting historically underserved communities and $20m for upgrading historically Black college and universities (HBCUs) and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs), and quadruples funding for the Manufacturing Extensions Partnership to boost investment in “minority owned and rurally located” businesses.

Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party (WFP), said it was clear Biden had been listening to activists and understood the interlocking challenges of racial injustice, climate change and economic inequality.

“This is not race-neutral – it’s actually pretty aggressive and specific,” he said, noting the coalition of Black voters and women who helped Biden clinch the Democratic nomination and win the White House.

Perhaps the boldest pieces of the proposal is a $400bn investment in care for elderly and disabled Americans. In his speech, Biden said his agenda would create jobs and lift wages and benefits for the millions of “unseen, underpaid and undervalued” caregivers, predominantly women of color.

Ai-jen Poo, co-founder and executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, called it “one of the single most impactful plans to address racial and gender inequity in our economy”.

Poo said the coronavirus pandemic, which disproportionately hurt women and people of color, showed just how critical care workers are to the wellbeing of the nation. And yet many of these workers still struggle to care for themselves and their families.

Poo believes Biden’s plan can do for caregiving and the economy what past jobs programs did for manufacturing, turning dangerous, low-wage jobs into opportunities for upward mobility and security. Home care workers have been excluded from labor protections – Poo said this effort places them at the forefront.

“There’s nothing more fundamental and enabling to our economy than having good care for families,” she said. “Without that, nothing else can function – we can’t even build roads, bridges and tunnels without care.”

Biden’s plan also provides for $100bn for high-speed broadband internet alongside provisions to improve access and affordability, which White House officials say will help to close the digital divide between white and Black and Latino…

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