As our country works to address the socio-economic challenges of COVID-19, many well-meaning Americans are invoking Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” response to the Great Depression as a model for Joe Biden to emulate. While the New Deal precipitated a national recovery, it allowed, and in some instances perpetrated, a raw deal for many people of color and communities like many of those I am privileged to represent. Many of President Roosevelt’s New Deal jobs programs like the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps came with “white only” tags hung on them. Current conditions cry out for a different approach, something more like Harry Truman’s Fair Deal.
On the heels of the Great Depression, the nation was thrust into World War II, which was fought and won by first-class soldiers, many of whom were black. The heroism of many of those soldiers has been heralded in books and chronicled in movies. While fighting to protect our country, these first-class soldiers were forced into segregated units, denied the recognition they had earned and relegated to second-class citizenship when they returned home.
President Truman reacted to these indignities by creating a Civil Rights Commission and signing an Executive Order integrating the Armed Forces. He launched his “Fair Deal” in 1949 saying, “Every segment of our population, and every individual, has a right to expect from his government a fair deal.” By the time he left office in 1953, unemployment was nearly nonexistent, the minimum wage was higher, and Social Security benefits were twice as high and available to millions more Americans. The Fair Deal made significant social and economic progress for all American communities and is a better model for President Biden to emulate; the American Rescue Plan was a good first step.
President Biden is now proposing the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan to put people back to work building state-of-the-art infrastructure needed for our economy to thrive. Like the Fair Deal, these plans will create jobs in all communities.
President Biden’s plan includes my Accessible, Affordable Broadband for All bill. This will ensure all Americans access to high-speed, affordable internet service. Broadband can do for rural America what electricity did in the last century.
An important issue for many Lowcountry communities is flooding. In 2020, Charleston experienced seven instances of major flooding — the highest number of such events since tracking began in 1922. The American Jobs Plan calls for significant investments to improve infrastructure resilience, which also will help lessen the impact of future hurricane damage. Other water infrastructure investments include replacing all lead pipes nationwide and decreasing poly and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination. A 2020
Environmental Working Group study found Charleston ranks in the top 10 places in the U.S. with the highest PFAS levels.
Housing is perhaps the most fundamental infrastructure necessity for families to succeed. Low-income residents in the Lowcountry struggle to find affordable housing. Princeton University’s Eviction Lab reports North Charleston has the country’s highest eviction rate of 16.5%, with 10 evictions happening each day. The American Jobs Plan invests in increasing home ownership and providing targeted tax credits, formula funding, and project-based rental assistance to improve the nation’s public housing infrastructure.
Like the Fair Deal, the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan include all communities. They are funded by raising taxes on high income individuals and successful big corporations.
I believe the Biden jobs and family plans are the best ways to meet this moment and ensure that the greatness of America is accessible and affordable for all.