BOSTON (SHNS) – Massachusetts elected officials must have a “roadmap” in place and address the underlying causes of inequality if they want a historic injection of federal funding to help close racial wealth gaps in the state, community leaders and social justice advocates said Wednesday.
Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposal to spend $2.9 billion in American Rescue Plan Act money includes hundreds of millions of dollars to promote homeownership, a step that his team says could help communities of color build wealth and access historically out-of-reach resources. Several speakers at a Wednesday economic roundtable discussion praised Baker’s homeownership proposal, including NAACP Boston branch President Tanisha Sullivan, while also calling on lawmakers to ensure that non-white voices are involved in the decision-making process.
Bishop Talbert Swan II, who leads the Springfield Church of God in Christ and is president of Springfield’s NAACP branch, said during the event that the sharp wealth gap between Black and white residents “comes from centuries of policies that have systemically disadvantaged Black communities.”
“Successful policies, whether they’re single policies or in combination, they have to be large in scope to meet the challenge of eliminating the Black-white wealth gap,” Talbert said. “If we just spend a bunch of money but we don’t institute policies that are going to change what has created this situation, when that money dries up, we’re right back in the same situation that we were in, to begin with. We need policies that will ultimately eliminate the wealth disparity and provide tangible assets and debt relief to Black and brown communities.”
Ideas floated during Wednesday’s discussion include using ARPA funding on student loan relief to lighten the burden that borrowers face and offering universal broadband access. The House and Senate kicked off a series of hearings last month that leaders say will inform the eventual allocation of the roughly $5 billion in ARPA funds the Legislature swept into a savings account.
Rep. Bud Williams, a Springfield Democrat who hosted the virtual event, said advocates have been “inundating” lawmakers with proposals for how to spend the money. The Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, he said, wants to spend $1 billion directly to support Black and brown communities in Massachusetts.