The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Biden announces plans to boost black and Latino finances

WILMINGTON, Del. — Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, announced a plan Tuesday to spend tens of billions of dollars to help people of color overcome inequities in the economy, a move that comes amid financial and racial upheaval nationwide.

The plan calls for dedicating $30 billion of previously proposed spending on a small-
business opportunity fund for black, brown and Native American entrepreneurs. Biden also proposed tripling the goal for federal contracting with small disadvantaged businesses, from 5 percent to at least 15 percent of all spending on materials and services by 2025.

“We need to make bold, practical investments to recover from the economic mess we’re in and to rebuild for the economic future our country deserves,” Biden said, adding that his plan would “deal with systemic racism and advance racial equity in our economy.”

The former vice president said he wants President Trump and Congress to create an emergency housing support program, along with promoting a refundable tax credit of up to $15,000 to help families purchase their first homes.

The plan, outlined in a speech Biden gave in Wilmington on Tuesday, came as race and the economy have taken a high profile in the presidential contest. That process has been rocked by protests in the wake of several killings of unarmed black people and by the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit communities of color especially hard.

Biden sharply criticized Trump in his speech, not only for his economic performance but for sending federal officials into U.S. cities in what Biden described as an effort to divide the country for political purposes.

“He’s showing that he can’t beat the pandemic and keep you safe. He can’t turn the economy around,” Biden said. “He is intentionally stoking the flames of division and racism in this country.”

Biden added: “His campaign is failing, and he is looking for a political lifeline. This isn’t about law and order. It’s about a political strategy to revive a failing campaign.”

The economic plan marks Biden’s latest attempt to make a major statement on racial issues, a topic on which he has faced blowback from activists during his campaign. At the same time, Biden was propelled to victory in the Democratic primaries by strong support from black voters, driven largely by those older than 45, who have shown a great deal of loyalty to a man who served under the country’s first black president.

Tuesday’s proposal — covering topics from education to housing to retirement — builds on ideas Biden has previously championed. “You will not see new dollar amounts” in the document, said a senior Biden campaign official.

The blueprint does not endorse slavery reparations, a move some black activists have advocated as a way to tackle economic and moral inequities. Asked Tuesday whether Biden would support a congressional study on reparations, the senior campaign official said, “The vice president doesn’t have a problem with a study.”

Tuesday’s speech reflects the dueling political pressures faced by Biden. Trump and his allies are eager to paint the Democrat as an extremist, seeking to tether him to ideas such as defunding the police, which Biden has repeatedly said he does not support.

At the same time, Biden’s history on issues of race has created some tensions with young activists of color in the party, who feel that he needs to prove himself more to win their enthusiasm.

The plan also says relatively little about police and criminal justice reform, the focus of protests that have erupted nationwide, although it advocates “helping states modernize their criminal justice data infrastructure and adopt automated ­record-sealing” for some nonviolent crimes. The goal is to ease the process of sealing or expunging certain criminal records that hold people back from jobs or other opportunities.

Trump has long argued that his economic policies, including cutting taxes and reducing regulations, have spurred historic job growth for all Americans, including blacks and Latinos. He asserts that African Americans have fared better under him than under any other president.

He made that point to Fox News last month, saying of the pre-coronavirus economy, “We had the best numbers for African Americans on employment and unemployment in history . . . best everything.”

Trump and his supporters also contend that Biden’s economic plans amount to “socialism” that would damage the economy for everyone. Although the economy was jolted by the pandemic, Trump argues that he is best-
positioned to rebuild it, saying he has done so once before.

But as the pandemic has continued, African American communities have sustained significant economic harm.

Biden’s plan represents the fourth and final part of his “Build Back Better” economic recovery plan. It comes fewer than 100 days before the Nov. 3 election, with the campaign ramping up its efforts to cement its advantage over Trump in the polls.

Biden has previously presented blueprints to spend $700 billion on U.S. products and research to jump-start the domestic economy; eliminate carbon pollution from power plants by 2035 and spend $2 trillion to spur the clean-energy economy; and invest $775 billion on helping to care for young and old Americans through universal preschool and other initiatives.

Biden delivered his speech on a basketball court inside a recreation center in his hometown of Wilmington. The campaign hung an American flag above the bleachers and put up a campaign poster. Journalists, people associated with the Biden campaign and invited guests were inside, with a few recreation center employees wandering in and out.

Although the campaign has sketched out a few ways it plans to finance its plans, such as reversing some of Trump’s tax cuts for corporations, it has yet to provide a complete picture of how it would pay for the ideas. A second senior Biden official said Tuesday that there was “not a specific time frame” for when that would be released.

Both officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized by the campaign to speak on the record.

Biden’s decades-long record in politics — spanning periods of changing attitudes about race, criminal justice and policing — has prompted skepticism from some activists. They point most often to his advocacy for a 1994 crime law that critics have blamed for leading to the mass incarceration of black people. Biden has also faced criticism for his past work with segregationist senators.

Biden, who has at times become defensive about his record on race, has pledged to nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court if elected president. He has promised that his running mate will be a woman and recently said that four black women were under consideration for that job. On Tuesday, he suggested his selection would come in the first week of August.

Still, more than 50 liberal groups signed a letter to Biden in June criticizing his reaction to the street protests and his promise to add $300 million for community policing programs.

He also faced criticism when he suggested in May that any African American who is considering voting for Trump “ain’t black.” Under heavy criticism, he quickly walked back his remark.

Beyond these issues, some black activists have expressed frustration with Biden’s “Lift Every Voice” plan for black America, which they argue would not go far enough to remedy long-standing racial inequities. In addition to facing pressure to embrace reparations, Biden has confronted calls to legalize marijuana, a position his plan stops short of adopting.

This week, Biden has placed an emphasis on recognizing women and people of color. On Monday, he made a rare public appearance in the U.S. Capitol, where he paid his respects to the late congressman John Lewis, a civil rights hero. He also received an endorsement from NARAL Pro-Choice America, a national organization supporting abortion rights.

Biden said Tuesday that he spoke to Lewis (D-Ga.) just before he died. Instead of focusing on himself, Biden said, Lewis “asked about me. He asked about us. He asked that we stay focused on the work left undone to heal this nation.”

On Wednesday, Biden plans to hold a virtual discussion with UnidosUS Action Fund President and CEO Janet Murguía about the “importance of the election and the stakes for the Latino community,” according to his campaign.

Following his speech, Biden took questions from reporters, something that’s been far less common in this campaign given the restrictions imposed by the pandemic.

In response to one question, he said that while Trump is trying to divide the country with his intervention in the racial justice protests, that does not exempt protesters from following the law and avoiding damage to property.

“I think we do need to hold those who violate the law accountable,” Biden said. “We should never let what’s done in a march for equal rights overcome what the reason for the march is. And that’s what these folks are doing. And they should be found, arrested and tried.”

He also addressed the uniqueness of the campaign and the fact that he has delivered most of his public comments from his home in Delaware, rather than on the campaign trail in swing states as would normally be the case. When he has ventured out for speeches or remarks, it generally has been nearby in Delaware or Pennsylvania.

Biden noted that millions of people have heard his comments despite those unorthodox circumstances.

He added, “I find it really doesn’t make a whole lot of difference where you do it from, as long as you can do it safely.”

Sullivan reported from Washington.