News of a bipartisan agreement on anything in Congress may come as a surprise to some, but the Senate continued hammering out the details of an infrastructure agreement Saturday. The Biden Administration sees the deal as a step forward in achieving the president’s comprehensive vision in March.
Cedric Richmond, the senior advisor to the president and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, recently told NewsOne the new deal represents a historic investment in Black and other communities of color. He said they crafted the agreement through a racial equity lens, listing several included priorities that disproportionately impact Black and other communities of color.
“When we designed this bill, we wanted to do it in a way that delivered real, tangible results,” Richmond explained during a phone call last week. “Everything from removing the 10 million lead pipes that deliver water to people’s homes, the 400,000 lead pipes that lead service lines that deliver water to schools disproportionately schools and homes are for people of color.”
Richmond also described provisions to address environmental justice, including cleaning up Superfund sites. “Twenty-six percent of Black Americans and 29 percent of Hispanic Americans live within three miles of a Superfund site,” he said.
The Biden administration highlighted the connection between proximity to Superfund sites and lead levels in the blood. Superfund clean-up could reduce lead levels in the blood by up to 26 percent.
Richmond said another promising area of the proposal is the potential for job creation.
“This bill will create good-paying union jobs with more than 80 percent of the funding for jobs being covered by prevailing wage,” Richmond noted. “Which means that they’re going to have to pay a living wage for all of this work, 95 percent of which will be done or can be done by people without four-year degrees.”
Other areas of noted investment include safe drinking water, safeguard communities of color from extreme weather and natural disasters, strengthening the energy grid, and the largest federal investment in public transit.
The proposal included funds for state and local infrastructure improvements along with emergency response strategies, such as planning grants to support the development of evacuation routes or upgrading community shelters. Another provision will pave the way for low-income families to buy flood insurance.
Citing the Claiborne Corridor in New Orleans, Richmond said the bill provides the first fund that would invest in communities destroyed by development such as railroad tracks and interstate overpasses. “We actually put money in the bill so that communities who wanted to reverse that or do something different, would have the ability to do that in predominantly Black and brown communities,” Richmond said.
An interactive project from Bloomberg CityLab documented the impact of highway racism and urban planning discrimination. It also provided potential ways for reclaiming and reconnecting communities.
Broadband access was another major area addressed by the bipartisan proposal. An issue made even more dire during the COVID-19 pandemic, disparities in internet access and affordability persist across the country. The Biden Administration released an interactive map in June illustrating the state of the internet in the county.
Critics argue the current proposal is a less ambitious version of Biden’s American Jobs Plan. The bipartisan proposal does not include provisions addressing the corporate tax rate, and some environmental advocates wanted stronger measures to address climate change and building a clean energy economy. The group Evergreen Action, formed by ex-staff from Gov. Jay Inslee’s presidential campaign, pointed to changes from a June announcement about investments in electric transportation options as an area of concern.
As of now, the bipartisan infrastructure bill still needs to pass through both the Senate and the House. Seventeen Senate Republicans voted with their Democratic counterparts to move forward with discussion on the legislative framework.
Whether 10 or more Republicans will vote for the bill, for the minimum 60 votes necessary to defeat a filibuster, remains to be seen. This bipartisan cooperation represents a noticeable departure from the obstruction in recent months, with Senate Republicans preventing conversation on bills pertaining to voting rights and the January 6 Capitol attack.
But the Biden Administration sees the initial agreement as an accomplishment.
“The President said during the campaign that he would reach across the aisle and he would work with the Republican Party where they were willing to work with him, and where we could get real wins for the country,” Richmond explained. “It was important for him to show that government can work, that democracies do work, and they can respond to the needs of the people.”
Richmond acknowledging there is still more work to do, signaled that many of the priorities endorsed by the president are still on the table. He said the administration still planned to invest in education and the care economy.
“We’re going to keep doing what we need to do to move the country forward,” said Richmond. “And the next thing we’ll do is the American Family Plan, which invests in our families.”