California Gov. Gavin Newsom is facing increased pressure to use his authority to unilaterally enact proposals that would dole out billions of dollars to Black residents in reparations as a way to make amends for slavery if the state legislature doesn’t act.
The California Reparations Task Force, which was created by state legislation in 2020, is considering a proposal to give just under $360,000 per person to approximately 1.8 million Black Californians who had an ancestor enslaved in the U.S., putting the total cost of the program at about $640 billion.
The task force’s final recommendations for reparations will be submitted to the California Legislature, which will then decide whether to implement the measures and send them to Newsom’s desk to be signed into law.
According to an expert and leading reparations activist, however, Newsom, a Democrat, should be prepared to use his own power to enact such measures for the state’s Black residents if the legislature doesn’t.
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“The task force is doing the grunt work of preparing final recommendations, but at the end of the day these recommendations are non-binding and still require uncompromising political will to enact remedies that will begin to address centuries of compounded harm,” Dreisen Heath told Fox News Digital. “Governor Newsom has the authority to enact these recommendations, if they are in fact aligned with the entire descendant community’s wishes, following the issuance of the final report on July 1, and should do so, if state lawmakers fail to act.”
Heath, who’s testified before Congress and for years worked as a researcher at Human Rights Watch, noted that activists have similarly been “pressing the Biden administration to use his executive authority to immediately establish a federal reparations commission given the deliberate stalling at the congressional level.”
Racial justice groups and some Democrats in Congress have been pushing President Biden for months to establish a national reparations commission by executive order. The White House has indicated Biden, who’s largely been quiet about the issue, supports studying potential reparations for Black Americans but has stopped short of saying he’d back a bill introduced in Congress that would create such a commission.
As for California, however, the reparations process is well underway.
Last year, the state task force made several preliminary recommendations in an interim report. A final report with the panel’s official recommendations is due by July 1 to the state legislature.
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The committee was created amid the unrest following the 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. None of the panel’s nine members are White.
The task force had initially proposed $220,000 per person for Black Californians last year but recently increased the figure by more than 60% to $360,000 as one of many ideas being mulled to give out reparations.
Economists and scholars consulting with the task force came to the latest proposal by using a model that evaluated California’s racial wealth gap, calculating damages related to injustices such as housing discrimination, mass incarceration and health harms.
“We know that Black Californians have not only endured economic damage, but also psychological, emotional, and political harms too, and thus additional compensation and targeted remedies must be developed if this is to be considered a true reparations program,” said Heath, who currently works for the advocacy group Where Is My Land. “Final recommendations should include a full calculation of these cumulative harms.”
It’s unclear how California would pay for such an extensive project. Newsom, who signed the bill creating the task force and appointed most of its members, announced in January that the state faces a projected budget deficit of $22.5 billion for the coming fiscal year.
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The figure represented a striking downturn from last year, when the state enjoyed a surplus of about $100 billion due to federal COVID relief and surging capital gains.
To make matters worse, the California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), a government agency that analyzes the budget for the state legislature, estimated in a subsequent report that Newsom’s forecast undershot the mark by about $7 billion, thanks to about $10 billion less in tax revenues than expected.
Newsom’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story.
At the more local level, some California cities — such as Oakland, Los Angeles, and most notably San Francisco — have been pushing their own reparations proposals.
On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors expressed “unanimous” support for a draft plan of more than 100 reparations recommendations for the city, including a proposal to dole out $5 million each to qualifying Black residents. The proposal of $5 million lump-sum payments would cost non-Black families in the city at least $600,000, according to Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.
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The city board also expressed interest in other forms of reparations for San Francisco’s roughly 50,000 Black residents, such as a guaranteed annual income of at least $97,000 for 250 years and a home in the area for just $1 a family.
Another idea under consideration is a “comprehensive debt forgiveness” program that would clear all personal, educational and credit card debt of low-income Black households.
Like California, San Francisco is also facing a massive deficit, estimated at $728 million, making it unclear how the city would pay for such a reparations plan.
According to Heath, however, the cost is justified given the historical wrongs done to Black people and the value they added to the economy without receiving proper compensation.
“Each of these recommendations should be given equal consideration,” she said. “An analysis should accompany the $5 million proposal, and the reparations committee has time to conduct that work. But if we are going to have a real conversation about what is owed, we need to be real about the value Black people have contributed to the global economy.”
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Heath added that local efforts in San Francisco or other cities to pay out reparations shouldn’t absolve any state, including California, or the federal government from also paying out their own reparations.
“San Francisco’s work at the local level must function to address localized harms and does not negate the U.S. government or the state of California for redressing its crimes,” said Heath. “It is not the job of any city to remedy harms manufactured by the federal or state government.”
Another hot-button issue in the reparations debate is determining who’s eligible to receive payments. At the state level, California is considering eligibility for the 1.8 million Black Californians who had an ancestor enslaved in the U.S., potentially leaving out hundreds of thousands of other Black residents. At the local level, the San Francisco committee wrote in its draft plan that a person must be at least 18 years old and identified as “Black/African American” in public documents for at least 10 years. Eligible people must also meet two of eight other criteria, such as living in San Francisco during a certain time period or descending from someone incarcerated for the police war on drugs.
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However, Heath disagrees with putting any limitations on who’s eligible as long as they’re Black.
“Racial violence does not discriminate by lineage — it comes for all Black people,” she said. “To deny that fact is to deny reality and many people of African descent’s lived experiences. Any task force that seeks to narrow eligibility for their reparations program based on ‘lineage’ runs the dangerous risk of underselling the extent of pervasive and structural anti-Black racism in the U.S., both historically and presently.”
San Francisco never allowed slavery, and California entered the union in 1850 as a free state. Opponents of reparations generally argue it doesn’t make sense for people who never owned slaves to give money to people who never were enslaved as a way of atoning for slavery.
Supporters of reparations, however, counter that Blacks continued to face systemic discrimination even after slavery was abolished.
“While neither San Francisco, nor California, formally adopted the institution of chattel slavery, the tenets of segregation, white supremacy and systematic repression and exclusion of black people were codified through legal and extralegal actions, social codes, and judicial enforcement,” the San Francisco committee’s draft reparations plan stated. “A lump sum payment would compensate the affected population for the decades of harms that they have experienced, and will redress the economic and opportunity losses that Black San Franciscans have endured, collectively, as the result of both intentional decisions and unintended harms perpetuated by city policy.”