A California task force studying the possibility of state reparations estimated that Black residents could receive more than $223,000 each as compensation for the economic effects of racial discrimination over many generations.
The New York Times reported that the nine-member Reparations Task Force, created through legislation signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2020, is expected to release a final report of its recommendations to state lawmakers in 2023. Lawmakers would then decide on how to act and determine how to fund reparations.
At this point, the task force has identified five areas for compensation: housing discrimination, mass incarceration, unjust property seizures, devaluation of Black businesses and health care.
The final compensation sum would likely exceed the $223,000 per person figure, which is based on the divided distribution of $569 billion to each qualified resident just for housing discrimination between 1933 and 1977.
Panel members are now debating how to distribute reparations. Some prefer housing grants and tuition and others favor direct cash payments.
“We are looking at reparations on a scale that is the largest since Reconstruction,” Jovan Scott Lewis, a UC Berkeley professor and task force member, told The Times.
Lewis added that the task force “must put forward a robust plan, with plenty of options” because it’s unclear whether lawmakers will support its recommendations that are shaping up to have a huge price tag.
In June, an interim task force report detailed discriminatory policies and practices (such as redlining that limited where Black residents could live) that the descendants of enslaved people suffered that continue to impact them today, including the areas of housing, education and the criminal justice system.
“Four hundred years of discrimination has resulted in an enormous and persistent wealth gap between Black and white Americans,” the report stated.
“These effects of slavery continue to be embedded in American society today and have never been sufficiently remedied. The governments of the United States and the State of California have never apologized to or compensated African Americans for these harms.”
The legacy of racial discrimination can been seen in the persistent wealth gap, the task force says. The median household wealth of White families is $188,200, compared with $24,100 for Black households, according to the Federal Reserve Board’s 2020 survey.
In March, the task force considered the thorny issue of reparations eligibility for the state’s Black residents. The task force members voted 5-4 to limit compensation for slavery to the descendants of free and enslaved Black people living in the United States in the 19th century.
That means Black Californians with a lineage of immigration from the Caribbean or Africa would be ineligible to receive reparations. Advocates for wider eligibility point out that the history of slavery is complex in terms of proving lineage. Ancestry is not easy to document, partly because slave owners frequently moved their enslaved people among plantations in the U.S., the Caribbean and South America.
Attempts to pass similar reparations legislation have failed at the federal level. At the city level, Evanston, Ill., a Chicago suburb, in 2021 became the first city to make reparations available to Black residents. There are no direct cash payments involved. Compensation for slavery includes funding housing programs for certain residents of the city.