Over the past several years, attempts to pass federal legislation for reparations have failed repeatedly. In February, a House bill to create a commission to study reparations for Black Americans was gaining steam. But with the GOP preparing to take control of the House for at least the next two years, it appears unlikely to advance.
However, for reparations supporters, there seems to be hope. At the city level, Evanston, Ill., a Chicago suburb, in 2021 became the first city to make reparations available to Black residents.
In the meantime, California lawmakers have advanced their efforts toward state reparations for Black residents. A 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.
Now, on the other side of the country, New York state lawmakers plan to renew their efforts to pass a reparations bill. State Assemblywoman Michaelle C. Solages, a Long Island Democrat, is gearing up to renew a push to submit a bill in the 2023 legislative session to create a reparations commission.
Solages, chair of the Assembly’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus, told BET.com that she and the bill’s co-sponsors will be ready on Jan. 1 to make sure a coalition is in place to pass the bill, which has been submitted to the drafters before it’s sent for indexing.
“Once we get a bill number, we're going to hit the ground running,” she said. “We already started building coalitions and are having those tough conversations. And so we're ready to go.”
Solages was also the main sponsor of legislation in 2022 to create a reparations commission to study the legacy of slavery in New York, including the economic impact of discrimination on slave descendants, and to recommend remedies.
It passed on June 3, in a 104-45 vote, in the Assembly but failed to make it out of committee in the state Senate. A reparations commission bill was first proposed in the 2017-18 legislative session by Brooklyn former Assemblyman Charles Barron.
The assemblywoman said the bill’s supporters used legislative language they inherited but failed to get the bill through the Senate, despite efforts to build a coalition of legislators and outside experts to educate lawmakers on what reparations would look like.
“People always think that it's about direct monetary compensation. But in fact, there are many different points of reparations,” she explained.
“And so, we had to educate members about the different points of reparations, whether it's restitution, rehabilitation, satisfaction, which is acknowledgement of guilt, and apologies and burials and construction of memorials, and also the guarantee of non repetition, which means changing our political structure and laws to ensure that Black New Yorkers are empowered.”
In California, the task force identified five areas for compensation: housing discrimination, mass incarceration, unjust property seizures, devaluation of Black businesses and health care.
It was predicted that 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.
According to the 2022 bill, there were more enslaved Africans in New York City than in any other cities except Charleston, S.C. before the American Revolution. Slaves accounted for 20 percent of New York’s population during that period.
“The slavery that flourished in the New York state constituted an immoral and inhumane deprivation of Africans' life, liberty, African citizenship rights, and cultural heritage, and denied them the fruits of their own labor. Sufficient inquiry has not been made into the effects of the institution of slavery on living African-Americans and society in New York,” the legislation stated.
Among its tasks under the 2022 bill, the commission would examine federal and state laws that discriminated against Black New Yorkers since the end of the Civil War, as well as other forms of discrimination against them in the public and private sectors. The commissioners would also assess the lingering negative effects of slavery and recommend appropriate remedies.
Looking ahead to New York’s upcoming legislative session, Solages said she and other supporters want the new bill to pass the legislature and be signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul before the state budget is approved next year. That time frame would ensure that the cost associated with the reparations commission is included in the budget.
Solages noted that Hochul recently vetoed multiple pieces of legislation that created various commissions and task forces because they were not funded through the budget process.
“We want to make sure that when we pass this bill, there's no reason to get vetoed,” she said.
The lawmaker is optimistic that the reparations commission will get through the legislative process this time.
“I believe that we have a great coalition of legislators and community members and New Yorkers who want to see this discussion on reparations happen,” Solages said.