A new letter from the Congressional Black Caucus to Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill this week outlines an aggressive list of priorities to help minority families, business owners, and prison inmates weather the economic and health impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The letter, obtained by The Independent and dated 29 April and addressed to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, advocates for the early release of many non-violent criminals in overcrowded prison systems that are potential hotbeds for Covid-19, an $82bn package to bring broadband internet access to millions more Americans in poor parts of the country, and dozens of other policies that would address the health and economic concerns of communities of colour.
"The Members of the Congressional Black Caucus appreciate your efforts to include many of our policy priorities in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act," Chairwoman Karen Bass wrote in the letter to Ms Pelosi and Mr Schumer, referring to a $2.2trn economic stimulus package Congress passed in March.
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"However, there is still much more needed to strengthen our communities and ease the impact of the pandemic thus far," Ms Bass wrote.
The CBC's letter aligns closely with the list of priorities espoused by the Congressional Progressive Caucus: $4bn for election security and to expand mail-in voting in all 50 states, the cancellation of student loan debt, an increase to the child tax credit, and a moratorium on the shutdown of utilities for people who cannot pay their bills, to name just a handful.
But it also outlines more parochial interests for members of colour, such as an additional $1.9bn in emergency funding to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and so-called "minority serving institutions," which received just $1.1bn of a requested $3bn in the CARES Act.
Among the proposals the CBC is pushing for now, according to the letter this week, is a measure to ensure cannabis businesses are eligible for the same emergency federal funds as other small businesses. The CARES Act prohibits businesses that are illegal at the national level from receiving money through federal programmes such as the Small Business Associations's Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) or the Treasury Department's paycheck protection programme (PPP).
The CBC is also pushing for a large-scale relaxation of the criminal justice system.
The letter from Wednesday calls for the release of more prisoners through "clemency, commutations, and compassionate release."
Prison officials should grant immediate temporary release to home confinement to "individuals who are a low-risk threat to the community, but to whom Covid-19 is a high-risk threat," the letter states. That group of inmates eligible for release should automatically include pregnant women, adults over the age of 55, and people with severe preexisting medical conditions, but "could extend to those who are near to completing their sentence, low-risk offenders, and those who have not begun their sentence," according to letter.
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