By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
The President Joe Biden-led bipartisan Infrastructure Framework released on Tuesday, June 29, addresses economic disparities in America’s economy and the consequences of decades of disinvestment in the nation’s infrastructure that have fallen most heavily on communities of color.
Through critical investments, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework increases access to good-paying jobs, affordable high-speed internet, reliable public transit, clean drinking water and other resources to ensure communities of color get a fair shot at the American dream.
“These critical investments are first steps in advancing equity and racial justice throughout our economy,” senior White House officials said.
“The President believes additional investments are needed in our nation’s caregiving infrastructure, housing supply, regional development, and workforce development programs to ensure that communities of color and other underserved communities can access economic opportunity and justice.”
Earlier this month in Tulsa, Oklahoma, President Biden announced a whole-of-government effort to increase the share of federal contracts going to small, disadvantaged businesses by 50 percent over the next five years, leveraging the government’s purchasing power to help more Americans realize their entrepreneurial dreams.
The President followed through in announcing the bipartisan Infrastructure Framework which includes delivering high speed internet to every American household.
Access if vital, particularly for African Americans whom the White House said are 9 percent less likely to have high-speed internet than their white peers (Latino Americans are 15 percent less likely).
About 35 percent of individuals living on Tribal lands also lack access to broadband service.
The Framework invests $65 billion to make high-speed broadband available to all Americans, to bring down high-speed internet prices across the board, and to close the digital divide.
The President’s plan will also invest in long overdue expansion of broadband on Tribal lands, in consultation with Tribal Nations.
“With the 1936 Rural Electrification Act, the Federal government made a historic investment in bringing electricity to nearly every home and farm in America, and millions of families and our economy reaped the benefits,” White House officials noted.
“Broadband internet is the new electricity. It is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning and health care, and to stay connected.”
The Framework will drive down prices for internet service and close the digital divide by making broadband more affordable, including in low-income communities and communities of color.
It also will eliminate lead pipes and deliver clean drinking water to every household, the White House official asserted.
“Across the country, pipes and treatment plants are aging and polluted drinking water is endangering public health. There are up to 10 million homes with lead service lines and pipes. Children in up to 400,000 schools and childcare facilities are at risk of exposure to lead,” the officials continued.
“Across the country, families of color are at the highest risk for lead exposure at home and in schools. Communities of color in cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, and Newark are also at particular risk.”
For kids, higher exposure to lead can negatively affect academic performance, and can lead to cardiovascular disease later in life.
By some estimates, each lead service line replaced at a cost of $5,000 per line leads to $22,000 in health savings.
The Framework makes the largest investment in clean drinking water in American history, replacing all of the nation’s lead pipes and service lines.
It also invests in more public transit options and address the backlog of repairs.
Asian American and African American workers commute by public transit at nearly 4 times the rate of white workers.
For example, low-wage Black residents in Chicago spend 70 additional minutes commuting to work than their white peers.
In New York City, the average Black resident spends 110 minutes more per week commuting to work than the average white resident.
“The Framework’s historic investment in public transit – the largest federal investment in history – will reduce commute times and create more economic opportunities in communities of color,” according to a White House Fact Sheet.
The Framework invests $48.5 billion to modernize transit and improve accessibility for older Americans and people with disabilities.
Significant portions of the interstate highway system were built through Black neighborhoods, destroying homes, schools, churches, and parks and causing lasting disconnection and disinvestment for residents who stayed.
“More broadly, historic investments in transportation infrastructure, especially highway construction, cut too many Americans off from opportunity, dividing and demolishing communities, and perpetuating economic and racial injustices,” The Fact Sheet noted.
The Framework creates a first-ever program to reconnect communities divided by transportation infrastructure. The program will fund planning, design, demolition, and reconstruction of street grids, parks, or other infrastructure.
Further, the Framework will make a critical down payment on helping the more than 25 million children and thousands of bus drivers who breathe polluted air on their rides to and from school.
“Diesel air pollution is linked to asthma and other health problems that hurt our communities and cause students to miss school, particularly in communities of color and Tribal communities,” officials wrote in the Fact Sheet.
The Framework will deliver more than 35,000 electric school buses nationwide, helping school districts across the country buy clean, American-made, zero emission buses, replacing a sizable percent of the yellow school bus fleet.
It also remediates Brownfield and Superfund Sites.
The White House estimated that 26 percent of Black Americans and 29 percent of Hispanic Americans live within 3 miles of a Superfund site, a higher percentage than for Americans overall.
Proximity to a Superfund site can lead to elevated levels of lead in children’s blood. Recent studies demonstrate that cleaning up these sites can lead to a decrease in blood levels by approximately 13 percent to 26 percent.
The Framework provides the full American Jobs Plan funding level of $21 billion to create good-paying union jobs plugging orphan oil and gas wells, cleaning up abandoned mines, and remediating Brownfield and Superfund sites.
“The Framework will begin to remedy economic injustice for communities across the country that have relied on the fossil fuel industry and have been affected most by the impacts of climate change and pollution, including rural communities and communities of color,” the White House offered.
It will also offer safeguards to communities of color from climate crises and extreme weather risks.
The White House officials noted that people of color are more likely to live in areas most vulnerable to flooding and other climate change-related weather events.
For example, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Black and Hispanic residents were twice as likely to report lost income.
Tribal lands are significantly at risk to the effects of climate change and Alaska Natives are particularly vulnerable, as they face multiple climate impacts.
The Framework invests $52 billion in helping communities build resilience to wildfires and floods through investments in forest management and upgrades to critical infrastructure – like elevating buildings, roads, and bridges, hardening physical infrastructure, and winterizing the power grid.
And it will fund state and local infrastructure improvements and emergency response strategies, such as planning grants to support development of evacuation routes or upgrading community shelters.
The Framework will also make it easier for low-income families to buy flood insurance.
Finally, Black, Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and Native communities are more likely to be burdened by pollution.
Black people are almost three times more likely to die from asthma related causes than their white counterparts. And more than one in three – or over 23 million – Latinos in the U.S. live in counties where the air doesn’t meet EPA public health standards for smog.
“The Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework helps meet this challenge by making the single largest investment in clean transmission in American history,” the officials stated.
“It creates a Grid Development Authority at the Department of Energy to enable a national, clean energy power grid and funds to support activities that reduce the impacts to the electric grid, and protect communities from extreme weather, wildfire, and natural disasters.”
The White House officials continued:
“It deploys long distance, high voltage transmission to enhance reliability and resilience, lower costs, and integrate the highest value clean energy resources. It invests in research and development for advanced transmission and electricity distribution technologies, and smart grid technologies that deliver flexibility and resilience.
“And, it invests more than $22 billion in demonstration projects and research hubs for next generation technologies like advanced nuclear reactors, carbon capture for industrial plants, and green hydrogen.”