The first 100 days of any presidential administration are always important. It is a tradition that dates back to FDR and the New Deal in the 1930s. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic devastating lives and livelihoods across America, President-Elect Joe Biden and VP-Elect Kamala Harris’s first 100 days might be the most important since those dark days of the Great Depression.
What do we need from the first 100 days? It is easy to come up with a policy agenda rooted in partisanship that does little for people who did not vote for you – or did not vote at all.
At Dream Corps, we believe that common pain should lead to common purpose.Nisha Anand, Dream Corps CEO
That means we need to start with who is hurting the most in this moment, what they need, and how our leaders can help.
No one is immune from the pandemic and the economic fallout. But Black and Brown and low-income communities were hit first and worst. These communities make up the often-neglected base of both political parties — and they are crying out for urgent relief.
Stop the bleeding. Start with where the pain is most acute. We need immediate help to block evictions, protect public health, keep people behind bars safe, rein in pollution that worsens the pandemic, provide broadband to low-income communities, and end police violence and abuses of power:
- Extend paid sick and family medical leave to protect public health.
- Ensure a moratorium on evictions and utility shutoffs and incentives for utilities to forgive utility bill debt and negotiate reasonable payment plans for low-income households.
- Boost funding for safe, reliable public transit that protects workers and riders, and provides essential and clean mobility options for millions of transit-dependent Americans.
- Take steps to end the war on drugs, which has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color, by reforming harsh mandatory minimums for drug offenses, removing Marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, and ending the remaining disparity in sentencing for crack vs. powder cocaine.
- End police violence and abuses of power, especially against Black and Brown communities, by holding law enforcement officers accountable and restoring faith and trust between communities and police.
- Clean up passenger transportation and freight through stronger Clean Air Act rules that help people reach essential jobs and access goods more safely.
- Get back to protecting historically marginalized communities from industrial pollution by enforcing environmental laws.
- Stop the spread of COVID-19 among vulnerable populations, especially in federal prisons by:
- Ensuring that all incarcerated people, staff, and contractors have access to necessary PPE to prevent transmission and infection.
- Requiring frequent testing and medical checkups of correctional staff and incarcerated people in order to mitigate additional outbreaks and protect public health.
- Increasing the utilization of compassionate release, especially for immunocompromised and elderly incarcerated people, during and after the coronavirus crisis.
- Fix the Bureau of Prisons by appointing competent leadership to handle the immense challenges of dealing with the spread of COVID-19, persistent staffing and safety issues, and discrimination against incarcerated people of color. Ensure that labor performed by incarcerated people at the federal level isn’t compulsory, results in a fair wage, and has necessary safety protections.
- Depoliticize the pardon and clemency process by removing the Office of the Pardon Attorney from underneath the DOJ and moving it into an independent agency with non-political oversight.
- Leverage the full weight of the White House both through executive order and by backing bipartisan federal legislation to reform qualified immunity for officers who violate citizens’ constitutional rights, ban chokeholds, and create a national police oversight commission to explore additional reforms.
- Modernize the funding mechanism for the federal Universal Service Fund to ensure continued robust funding that provides connectivity to schools and low-income and under-served communities.
- Increase Coronavirus Relief Fund grants to state, local, and tribal governments to expand access to high speed broadband internet and ensure every student has access to the hardware and software needed to be successful in virtual learning.
Focus on those hurt first and worst. Black, Brown, and low-income communities bearing the brunt of the pandemic should be at the center of any response. We need to make sure people can return home from prison safely and with a chance at a good, green job, jumpstart the recovery by investing in transit and energy infrastructure in our communities, expand broadband access, invest in minority-owned businesses, accelerate electrification and expand efforts to reform the criminal justice system:
- Take immediate legislative action to ensure that the 600,000 people returning home from prison in 2021 and the millions more impacted by a criminal record have access to jobs, housing, and meaningful federal assistance, including creating a pathway for the sealing of federal records, incentivizing a moratorium on the collection of criminal justice-related fees and fines, and prioritizing access to federal loans and benefits.
- Foster a prison-to-green jobs pipeline by funding and expanding the Second Chance Act grant program to ensure that people returning home from incarceration in 2021 have a viable pathway to good green jobs.
- Jumpstart the economic recovery with legislation that modernizes and upgrades our broken transportation and energy infrastructure, especially in communities hardest hit by COVID-19, many of whom have faced underinvestment and decaying infrastructure for decades.
- Restore, update and expand the Lifeline program to ensure high speed broadband internet connectivity in addition to phone service. Increase broadband subsidies to provide meaningful financial relief, and increase promotion of Lifeline to eligible and newly-eligible households.
- Boost investment in minority-owned businesses and hiring from underrepresented populations, including people of color, veterans, people with disabilities, and people who were formerly incarcerated.
- Reinvigorate the Federal Interagency Reentry Task Force to ensure that the full weight of the federal government and its departments are protecting public safety and supporting people released from incarceration.
- Accelerate transportation electrification by leveraging federal purchasing power and supporting state and local leaders to decrease emissions and prioritize deployment in communities overburdened by pollution.
- Invest in community climate initiatives that provide locally controlled funding for clean mobility and energy projects with local hiring. Allocate funding directly to local communities to direct and use to best meet their mobility, economic, and health needs.
- Commit to fully funding and implementing the First Step Act, and immediately create a plan to restart prison programming, which has been paused and has jeopardized the accrual of earned time credits under the FSA. Ensure that the BOP and DOJ stay on track with any reporting requirements related to the FSA – especially focused on racial impact assessment.
Emerge better than before. We don’t simply want to go back to “normal” after COVID-19 — we want something better. We can lay the groundwork now, with low-income weatherization programs, pollution-free transit and school buses, a new Clean Power plan, leveraging federal dollars for good, increased access to capital for green businesses, and more:
- Expand low-income home weatherization assistance programs to cover at least 1 million households, including extending supplemental support to upgrade unsafe housing, which will create tens of thousands of jobs, save money, and improve health for households struggling to pay their utility bills.
- Invest in pollution-free transit and school buses and medium and heavy duty trucks through grants and low and zero-interest loans, to improve health, reduce pollution and support domestic jobs in the innovative, clean tech economy.
- Launch a new Clean Power Plan that improves efficiency and cuts emissions, especially in communities overburdened by pollution.
- Prioritize rehabilitation over punishment in our prisons and across the justice system by leveraging federal grants to reduce state prison populations, increasing funding for alternatives to incarceration, and taking bold steps to prioritize rehabilitation in the federal Bureau of Prisons.
- Leverage federal contracting dollars toward projects that improve racial and economic justice and reduce pollution. Prioritize grant and contract proposals that meet equity and pollution-reduction criteria.
- Increase access to capital through a revolving fund “green bank” to provide low or zero-interest loans for local projects that reduce pollution, improve mobility options, or strengthen energy democracy.
- Provide grants for state, local, and tribal communities to invest in high speed broadband infrastructure and access. Create a clear pathway for municipal broadband network development.
- Build back trust, community participation and protection from pollution through the restoration of clean water guidelines, environmental review processes, and methane rules for oil and gas.
- Analyze the existing implementation of the PATTERN risk assessment tool and ensure any adjustments prevent racial disparities in the assignment of risk categories or in the matching of services and programs required to lower one’s risk category, and incorporate dynamic factors into assessments.
America, in 2021, must choose between community or chaos. We don’t need more top-down bipartisanship that leaves hurting communities behind. We need to get those communities together and build bottom-up common ground that makes big demands of our leaders.
What our leaders do in the first 100 days could reshape America — which is why we need to make sure our voices are heard, so that we are the ones who decide the future.