The Philadelphia Tribune: Officials look at how infrastructure law will benefit African Americans

Whether it is expanding child care, making sure that children have access to clean water or investing in broadband and public transportation, most everything in the $1 trillion infrastructure law will benefit African-American communities, according to some federal lawmakers.

“If you talk about investing in public transportation, Black fathers and mothers take public transportation to go to work,” said Cedric Richmond, senior adviser to President Joe Biden, who is also director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. “If you are talking about safe bridges and roads, yes, we drive on them. We have to level the playing field, so we are not leaving rural communities behind, we are not leaving poor people behind and we are not leaving African-American communities behind.”

U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, of Ohio’s D-3rd District and chairperson of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the caucus helped the president craft the bill, which he signed Monday.

They made their comments in a Zoom meeting this week with members of the African-American news media to highlight the benefits of the law.

“The president asked for our opinions and thoughts,” Beatty said. “We delivered and we were at the table. It makes a difference when we are in the room.”

Beatty listed some of the important parts of the legislation and the dollar amounts associated with them, including: $555 billion for climate change; $400 billion for child care and universal pre-kindergarten; and $55 billion for access to clean drinking water for homes, businesses and schools.

“We are taking 40% of children out of poverty,” Beatty said. “We are making a difference in the lives of many.”

To be sure, parts of the bipartisan bill that call for rebuilding bridges and roads, investing in public transportation, and building electric car charging stations will create contracting and employment opportunities for African-American communities, she said.

Many of those jobs will not require four- or two-year college degrees.

According to Beatty, the Congressional Black Caucus will serve as a watchdog to make sure Black people and communities of color get their fair share.

The infrastructure legislation also sets aside billions of dollars to right some of the wrongs created in the 1950s and 1960s, when highways were expanded, breaking up some neighborhoods, many of them in African-American communities. But some critics of the law said the decisions on how to spend much of the money will be left up to the states. They argue that some states may not share Biden’s vision.

But in Pennsylvania, the infrastructure law calls for $1 billion for the Reconnecting Communities Initiative, designed to reverse damage caused by highways built, mostly in communities of color, decades ago, according to U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-3rd District.

He co-sponsored the plan to help Philadelphia neighborhoods like Nicetown and Chinatown that were split by the Roosevelt Boulevard and Vine Street expressways. He partnered with Black Congressional Caucus members to fight for money to reconnect some of the communities.

For his part, Evans said he supported the infrastructure law because it would create millions of jobs and make long-necessary repairs to the nation’s roads, bridges, transit, water and sewer systems. Pennsylvania is scheduled to receive $11.3 billion for roads, $1.6 billion for bridges, $2.8 billion for public transit, $1.4 billion for clean drinking water and more.

The Nicetown Community Development Corporation has a $9 million plan to bridge the divide, the Tribune reported this week. It will be aided by $1 million from the Reconnecting Communities Initiative. The Nicetown CDC plans to develop a sports court under the elevated Roosevelt Boulevard highway. The development will include basketball courts, rain gardens, a skate park, a small amphitheater and a plaza for vendors.

Evans said he is pushing for a House rule to clear the way to pass Biden’s Build Back Better bill in the near future.

For example, the proposed Build Back Better legislation would make historic investments in child care, housing and prescription drugs, making them more affordable. It would also invest in combating climate change and would continue Biden’s expansion of the Child Tax Credit, Evans said.