The D.C. City Council unanimously voted to pass the Racial Equity Achieves Results (REACH) Emergency Amendment Act of 2020 at their meeting on Nov. 10.
Introduced by Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie from Ward 5 and Chairman Phil Mendelson, the act seeks to eliminate socioeconomic inequities experienced by Black residents and other people of color in the District. It will create a number of offices, including the Office of Racial Equity, and has been funded in the 2021 budget.
D.C. is rife with socioeconomic and racial inequalities. Earlier this year, a study named D.C.’s economy as the least racially equitable in the country. Black people make up 44.5 percent of the residents in D.C. and have the lowest median income by household of all racial and ethnic groups in the District, roughly $50,000 under the median income of all residents. D.C.’s Black residents experience the highest rates of unemployment in the District, and in Ward 8, which is 92 percent Black, 30 percent of families live below the poverty line. Racial justice organizations and activists have called for legislative action to address these issues.
The road to this vote began in January of 2019. At a legislative meeting on Jan. 8, McDuffie, Mendelson, and a collection of councilmembers first introduced the act. A series of public hearings, committee mark-ups, and reports over the last two years culminated in the legislative meeting last month, where the emergency version of the REACHAct passed.
The REACH Act establishes the Office of Racial Equity, which will create and oversee a structure to advance racial equity, and the Commission on Racial Equity, Social Justice, and Economic Inclusion, a nine-person commission made up of D.C. residents tasked with overseeing the District’s efforts. Within the D.C. Council, a new office will provide a Racial Equity Impact Assessment for specific legislation.
Additionally, the act requires that all D.C. government employees, as well as members of District boards and commissions, undergo racial equity training. D.C. must also create a racial equity tool by March of 2021 to help District agencies incorporate racial equity into their operations. This includes setting initiatives, objectives, and metrics to measure progress in rectifying socioeconomic disparities based on sex, race, and ethnicity.
“This new law moves D.C. one step closer to rooting out systemic racism and to becoming an anti-racist City,” George Jones, the CEO of Bread for the City, an agency supporting low-income residents in DC which endorsed the act, said.
REACH has been endorsed by various racial and social justice organizations, including Black Lives Matter DC, ACLU of the District of Columbia, Empower DC, and DC Working Families.
The #REACHAct passed final reading (and on emergency) unanimously during today’s legislative meeting. Thanks to my colleagues and every organization and individual who worked with us on the bill and advocated for its passage. Now, let’s focus on implementation. #RacialEquityDC pic.twitter.com/5m0EmhvlzM
— Kenyan McDuffie (@kenyanmcduffie) November 10, 2020
The bill is now under mayoral review with a response due Dec. 7. A permanent version of the act also passed the Council and is subject to approval by the mayor and the U.S. Congress.