Biden administration ties $3B in community grants to 'equity' push

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The Biden administration announced $3 billion in community grants as part of the American Rescue Plan, saying anyone who applies for a grant must demonstrate that “equity” is part of the proposal.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo on Thursday said equity is “good for workers, good for business and good for the economy,” and that she believes the investment is the largest ever economic development initiative from the agency.

Raimondo told reporters Thursday that millions of Americans continue to struggle amid the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, adding that the effects have been “uneven.” 

“Those who continue to struggle disproportionately women, people of color, communities of color, rural communities, and tribes,” Raimondo said. “So ensuring that these $3 billion are distributed equitably is core to our investment strategy.” 

Raimondo said state and local governments, universities, Indian tribes and nonprofits can begin applying for the funding as soon as Thursday afternoon. She said the grants could create up to 300,000 jobs “in the near term.”

The program will allocate $500 million towards industry and workforce training and apprenticeship programs, with a particular focus on women, people of color and underserved communities.

“You have to prove to us that you’ll have an equity lens,” Raimondo said at Thursday’s White House press briefing. “And whether it’s job training that you’re doing … you have to make sure that women, people of color, veterans, people who’ve have been left out will be included in this. So it’s a lens that we’re going to take across the $3 billion.”

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo speaks during a press briefing in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, July 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

“We are deeply committed for this to be transparent,” she explained, noting that the Commerce Department is already putting in place “accountability measures.” 

“We are going to track every penny to make sure it is doing what it is supposed to do,” Raimondo said, citing her experience as governor of Rhode Island. 

Raimondo stressed that “every community will receive something.” 

The initiative will give $1 billion in funding for the “Build Back Better Regional Challenge;” $500 million for the “Good Jobs Challenge;” $500 million for the “Economic Adjustment Assistant Challenge;” $100 million for the “Indigenous Communities Challenge;” $750 million to travel, tourism and outdoor recreation grants; and $90 million in grants for statewide planning, research and networks. 

“As the president often says, and we all know, we’re on the road to recovery,” Raimondo said. “And today, with this announcement, we mark a real step forward in that recovery.” 

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