By Evan Symon, May 8, 2023
The Reparations Task Force formally approved new recommendations on reparations during the weekend in Oakland, okaying an apology, financial compensation, and several state program changes.
According to the approved recommendations, an apology is to be issued by the state that includes a “a censure of the gravest barbarities”. While the apology would include issues such as housing discrimination in the past, it would also formally condemn former state Governor Peter Hardeman Burnett over passing laws excluding African-Americans from the state.
Monetary-wise, the Task Force drastically reduced the initial $800 billion figure that has been blasted by the vast majority of Californians for the last several weeks. Instead, the panel recommended that a new agency be created to pride services to descendants of formerly enslaved. The direct cash payments for restitution would then be divided between more broader areas of compensation for large groups of eligible people, and more focused compensation based on individual harms of the past.
This would included an estimated payment of $13,619 per each year of state residency for health care disparities, $3,366 per each year lived in the state between 1933 and 1977 for housing discrimination, and $2,352 per each year lived in California between 1971 and 2020 for mass incarceration and over policing.
Outside of direct monetary payments, other more social changes were recommended including removing racial bias and discriminatory practices in standardized testing, declaring election day a paid state holiday, updating language in the state’s Constitution, restoring voting rights to all formerly and currently incarcerated people, compensating people deprived of profits for their work, apologizing for acts of political disenfranchisement, implementing rent caps in historically redlined neighborhoods, and investing in and creating free health care programs.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), who is also currently running for Senate, said of the proposals on Sunday that “Reparations are not only morally justifiable, but they have the potential to address longstanding racial disparities and inequalities.”
Since the Task Force was first put together in late 2020, following Gov. Gavin Newsom signing AB 3121 by then-assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), they have considered and recommended reparations, monetary or otherwise, for African-Americans living in California, for discriminatory practices and slavery of the past, despite that California was never a slave state. While initially encompassing all people of African descent, the group of those qualified to receive reparations was significantly narrowed in March 2022 when the task force voted to limit the possible reparations to those who are an African American descendant of an enslaved person or free Black person living in the US prior to the end of the 19th century.
In June 2022 the Task Force released its first report, giving a recommendation of reparations, in the form of home buying assistance, free college tuition, and business grants. However, one of the many criticisms against the report recommendations was that no estimated monetary figure was attached. In early December, an estimate of $569 billion was provided by the state, leading to disbelief and the threat of lawsuits if the number holds.
Later that month, compensation and eligibility requirements were discussed.
However, since the beginning of the year, many parts of the Task Force’s actions have been brought under scrutiny. The question of compensation has in particular been trounced by the media and residents, with so many coming out against the $800 billion compensation plan that Task Force members came out to say to stop focusing on the monetary part of the plan. A more recent figure of $1.2 million given to each black resident has been similarly scrutinized.
Following it’s passage this weekend, many Task Force members noted that the entire process is to take a lot of time, especially in getting the reparations plan ready for a bill-form to be voted on in the California legislature.
“Giving the impression that funds will become readily available – or that cash payments are recommended by the taskforce to rectify marginalization caused by generations of reckless policies and laws – is not focusing on the real work of the taskforce or the report itself,” said Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles). “There is a process by which the legislature will look at and discuss all recommendations, and that will take some time.”
A long way to go if reparations are even approved
Despite the recommendations being voted on by the Task Force, experts noted that there is still a long way to go, and that there is a good chance that reparations may fail outright, or at the very least, be passed with a much watered down and much less expensive final package.
“There’s no way in the world that many of these recommendations are going to get through because of the inflationary impact,” said University of San Diego Legal Professor Roy L. Brooks in a statement on Monday.
Legal adviser Richard Weaver added in a Globe interview on Monday that “There are so many legal issues here still that it is astounding it is even being considered. First, let’s look past the fact that California was a free state but also note that African-Americans in the state have been discriminated against in the past. Now, with the recommendations in place, this is everything it still needs to go through.”
“First, we still need to get to July and have this be presented formally, so some minor changes could possible still happen between now and when the final report is due July 1st. After that, it needs to be put into bill form, and they are going to have a field day making that. They need to be exact with the figures in a bill, so they can’t be vague about it. If they are, it will be instantly attacked and DOA.”
“Say they do that. It will then go to the Assembly and Senate, and you can bet that it will be amended to hell, especially if many Democrats complain about it. So this is where money will be greatly reduced and things the Task Force wanted be thrown out entirely. If it gets passed, Newsom will then need to sign it into law.”
“And then, all that can be moot, because then all the legal challenges will come, and there are going to be a lot. Best case, this gets hung up in lawsuits for years with it being further stripped down as a result. Worst case, it gets stopped indefinitely or declared to be against the law, which, right now, lawyers can argue very much for. The compensation plan alone will likely trigger several, and that’s not even getting into all those smaller things they want.”
“Also a possibility is this going to a state vote as a result, and that is the last thing supporters want because they know most Californians don’t want reparations. The state is only 6.5% black. Even with a large liberal population, paying a lot now to so few residents in the time of budget deficits and a possible recession is not going to play well.”
“All that happened is that they approved what to tell the legislature. It doesn’t change the odds of success.”
Their final report on reparations is due to the legislature on July 1st.
Evan V. Symon is the Senior Editor for the California Globe. Prior to the Globe, he reported for the Pasadena Independent, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and was head of the Personal Experiences section at Cracked. He can be reached at evan.