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Fri, Sep

Reparations Panel Recommends Possible Millions for Eligible Black Californians

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RACIAL RECKONINGS - A task force approved economic models for lawmakers to calculate the costs of historical racism in California. Try our interactive tool to see what is owed.

The California Reparations Task Force approved economic models for calculating reparations which could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars owed to eligible Black residents to address past racial inequities.

The models tell the state what is owed. The Legislature would have to adopt the recommendations and decide how much to pay, task force members said. 

The state-appointed task force also unanimously voted to recommend California formally apologize “for the perpetration of gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity and African slaves and their descendants.”  

After 15 public hearings, two years of deliberations and input from more than 100 expert witnesses and the public, the task force on Saturday voted to finalize its proposals in an  Oakland meeting. The nine-member panel has a deadline to submit it all to the Legislature by July 1.

The historic effort could become a model for a national program of reparations, some observers have said.  Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Oakland, said at the beginning of the task force meeting that the United States must repair the damage done to Black Americans. 

“Reparations are not a luxury, but a human right long overdue for millions of Americans,” she said. “We are demanding that the government pay their tax.” 

A bill by former state assembly member Shirley Weber created the reparations task force in 2020, in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd. The panel has since examined the history of slavery and racism in the state and developed detailed plans for how the state can begin to undo certain types of racial harm, such as housing discrimination, mass incarceration, devaluation of Black-owned businesses, the unjust taking of property and unequal access to health care.

The recommendations include policy changes and financial payouts. The task force’s final report and documents, numbering thousands of pages, don’t contain an overall price tag for reparations. They do include ways the state could calculate how much money eligible African Americans in California have lost since the state’s founding in 1850. The loss calculations vary depending on type of racial harm and how long a person has lived in California. 

For instance, the loss estimates are $2,300 per person per year of residence for the over-policing of Black communities, and they are $77,000 total per person, regardless of length of residence, for Black-owned business losses and devaluations over the years. 

The task force voted in March 2022 that African American descendents from enslaved Americans were eligible, but other Black residents, such as more recent immigrants, are not. Nearly 80% of California’s 2.6 million Black residents would be eligible, said William Darity, an economist who consulted with the task force.

Task force members said elderly people should have priority for payment. 

CalMatters created an interactive tool for calculating how much a person is owed, using formulas in the task force’s final reports and how long a person lived in California during the periods of racial harm.  

For instance, a 19-year-old who moved to California in 2018 would be owed at least $149,799 based on the calculations, but a 71-year-old who has lived in California all their life could be owed about $1.2 million. On the other hand, an eligible 28-year-old Californian who moved out of state in 2012 and just moved back could be due around $348,507, according to the calculator.

Hundreds of millions of dollars

If all of the eligible African American residents lived in the state only two years, it could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in potential reparations.

Eligible Black residents should not expect cash payments anytime soon. 

The state Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom will decide on reparations. It’s unclear what they will do with the task force recommendations. The task force was not told to identify funding sources. 

“Reparations are not a luxury, but a human right long overdue for millions of Americans.”

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, Democrat from Oakland

Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a task force member and Democrat from Los Angeles, stressed that the process will take time. 

“Giving the impression that funds will become readily available — or that cash payments are recommended by the task force to rectify marginalization caused by generations of reckless policies and laws — is not focusing on the real work of the task force or the report itself,” he said in an interview Sunday. “There is a process by which the legislature will look at and discuss all recommendations, and that will take some time.” 

Task force members voted to recommend the Legislature consider “down payments” of varying amounts to eligible African American residents, saying direct cash payments are part of other reparations programs around the world.

“The initial down payment is the beginning of a process of addressing historical injustices; not the end of it,” the task force report states.

The task force also is recommending a variety of policy changes to counteract discrimination. For example, the task force has recommended the state end the practice of forced labor in prisons and adopt a K-12 Black studies curriculum.   

Freedman’s bureau

The group finalized plans to establish a centralized state agency similar to the national Freedmen’s Bureau, a federal agency created in 1865 to assist previously enslaved Black people. The state agency would provide oversight and implement the task force’s proposals.    

“The agency will be doing the work that we weren’t able to finish in two years,” said Kamilah Moore, chairperson of the task force. 

Saturday’s meeting was one of the more rowdy hearings by the task force. It included a brief shouting match between a regular meeting attendee and Amos Brown, the task force’s vice chairperson. Also the California Highway Patrol escorted a disruptive group out of Lisser Hall at Mills College, where the meeting was held. 

During this nearly final task force meeting, debate continued over who is eligible for reparations. Some task force members also voiced concerns that the Legislature might not honor the task force’s vote to consider lineage for eligibility. 

By a 5-4 vote last year, the task force narrowly defined an eligible person as an “individual being an African American descendant of a chattel enslaved person or the descendant of a free Black person living in the US prior to the end of the 19th century.” 

That vote was contentious and emotional

Reparations vote

The task force voted 6-3 Saturday to approve the recommendations for financial compensation. The three members who voted against it did so after changes they wanted failed.  

Moore on Saturday made several attempts to further codify the lineage-based definition in the task force’s final reports by adding a new chapter. That failed to garner majority support from the rest of the task force.  

When Moore requested a section of the final report move from one part to another, members of the Department of Justice staff who put the report together balked, saying the panel would have to rescind its prior vote and convene an additional meeting to redo the report’s structure. 

Monica Montgomery Steppe, a task force member and San Diego City councilmember, disagreed with them. But a majority of the task force went on to approve the final documents as presented with slight tweaks.  

Speaking on Sunday in Twitter Spaces, Moore said that meeting “procedure can be weaponized.” She declined to say more publicly about issues from the meeting. “Stay tuned for the ‘tell-all’ book, though,” she joked. 

The task force tentatively set its final meeting for June 29 in Sacramento. Members said they plan to hand the documents to members of Legislature. 

(Wendy Fry joined CalMatters from the San Diego Union-Tribune, where she covered Baja California and the border region for four years. She previously worked as an on-air reporter at NBC7 and an investigative reporter/producer for the NBC7 Investigates team. She graduated from San Diego State University. This story was featured first in CalMatters.org.)