President Joe Biden has inherited a nation wrought with crises either sparked, exacerbated or ignored by his predecessor, former President Donald Trump.
In November, MLK50 examined promises on both sides of the presidential race and identified the best-case and worst-case scenarios for key issues concerning Memphis’ most vulnerable people.
Now with the winner sworn in, here are President Biden’s plans to address the pandemic, its resulting economic crisis, climate change, criminal justice reform and immigration.
The COVID-19 pandemic
Cases of COVID-19 have continued to surge and the vaccine distribution has been slower than health officials hoped. State vaccination data shows only 2.12% of Shelby County residents have had one dose of the vaccine while 1.5% have received a second.
Calling Trump’s rollout a “dismal failure,” Biden set a goal for his administration to vaccinate 100 million people during his first 100 days in office. The goal accompanies a $1.9 trillion proposal called the “American Rescue Plan.” This includes resources to control the pandemic, speed vaccination efforts and stabilize the economy.
But first, Biden will need to get the expansive plan through a narrowly Democratic Congress.
The plan also extends the pause on federal student loan payments and a moratorium on evictions through September.
The eviction moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will expire at the end of January. This leaves up to 40 million people at risk of eviction, according to studies by the Aspen Institute. And according to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, 10,751 evictions have been filed in Shelby County since March 15.
The coronavirus pandemic has driven tens of millions of Americans to unemployment. This has had a disproportionate impact on people of color and low-wage workers, including in the Memphis metropolitan area where the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports unemployment was at 9.7% in December.
However, workers struggled before the coronavirus arrived. The federal minimum wage has not budged since 2009 from $7.25 an hour. Some states and their local governments have legislated higher minimums than the federal rate, but Tennessee isn’t one of them.
The economic arm of Biden’s trillion-dollar plan provides direct aid for Americans. It also features an economic policy that will stretch beyond the pandemic.
In long-term policy, a plan to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour is tucked into the bill. More than doubling the minimum wage to $15 hourly could lift more than a million workers above the poverty line, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Biden is also proposing $1,400 stimulus checks on top of the $600 Congress already passed last month. He intends to provide subsidies and assistance for the costs of housing and childcare, and paid sick leave for workers.
The new president wants to pay for the pandemic relief and future economic reform by raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy. This is a reversal of Trump’s tax breaks to the country’s top earners.
Biden, as a senator, helped author and advocate for a 1994 crime bill. It introduced harsh criminal justice policy and incentivized state investment in the prison industrial complex. Critics of the bill consider it a catalyst for the mass incarceration and over-policing of Black and brown people.
Biden downplays his involvement in the bill. But he has presented criminal justice reforms that aim to correct the effects of previous crime policy. He plans to end mandatory minimum sentencing, abolish cash bail, decriminalize marijuana, and give states incentives to divert investment from prisons to social services, among others.
On the subject of policing, Biden has endorsed a need for police reform. However he rejected the idea of defunding police departments.
Climate change and the environment
Through wildfires, heatwaves, droughts and floods, the effects of climate change are growing more severe due to global pollution. And the placement of that pollution has forced already vulnerable communities to shoulder the heaviest consequences. This includes the preexisting conditions that make COVID-19 particularly deadly to poor, Black and brown people.
Biden considers climate change an existential threat and plans to bring the country to net-zero emissions by 2050. Reaching his goal will involve reestablishing decades of environmental regulation slashed by the Trump administration. It also will involve creating jobs by transitioning the country to cleaner energy sources.
The United States will rejoin the Paris climate agreement, Biden has said. Trump removed the U.S. from the global effort against climate change in 2017.
Early reports of Biden’s day one plans include an executive order revoking a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. Trump approved the pipeline against the protest of environmentalists and Native Americans who said the project threatened the water supply and sacred sites of nearby tribes.
Also, Biden promises to strictly prosecute illegal polluters and bolster the Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency’s arms for environmental justice.
Trump campaigned and built a presidential legacy on anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy. Along with attacks on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Trump administration set a record for deporting undocumented immigrants without criminal records.
Biden’s day one executive orders also include ending Trump’s travel ban on mostly Muslim countries. And it orders agencies to reunite children separated at the border from their families by the Trump administration.
He is also set to introduce to Congress an eight-year path to citizenship for people living in the U.S. without legal status.
Carrington J. Tatum is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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