Polls show most Americans support the COVID-19 relief bill. But this bill comes with a slap in the face for people who believe in racial equality and want everyone to benefit.
Section 1005 of the bill offers women and minority farm owners a total debt forgiveness of up to hundreds of thousands of dollars per farmer. No strings or other requirements. An amazing offer -- but white men need not apply.
Newly elected Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock, who proposed it, says it's intended to make up for years of discrimination. Sorry, Senator, but this is discrimination.
There's more discrimination in the bill's aid to restaurants, Section 6003. It grants restaurant owners up to $5 million per facility to offset losses during the pandemic. That's a lifeline for restaurants hanging on week by week, trying to make one more mortgage or rent payment and keep from going out of business.
Here's the hitch: Only women, minorities and veterans can apply during the program's first three weeks. Most white men have to go to the back of the line, even if their losses are larger or their need more pressing.
Treating white male farmers and restaurant owners like second-class citizens violates a fundamental principle that we're equal under the law -- a principle guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.
The pandemic is hurting everyone.
Many of New York's upstate dairy farmers are facing bankruptcy because restaurants accounted for half the demand for their products. Yet, the farm aid in the COVID-19 relief bill is not about helping them get through the pandemic. Most of them won't be eligible because they're white men.
The bill looks more like reparations than COVID-19 relief. It says farm aid is being provided "for the purposes of addressing the longstanding and widespread discrimination against socially disadvantaged farmers."
The truth is that farmers have been struggling for a decade, and more than half lose money year after year. Minority-owned farms are generally less in debt than farms owned by whites, though diminished access to credit may be part of the reason. Debt relief is urgently needed by white and minority farmers alike.
Senator Chuck Schumer crisscrossed the state last weekend bragging about his role in the COVID-19 relief bill, and claiming credit for the $25 billion in aid to restaurants. He cautioned that 54% of New York restaurant owners won't be able to survive the next six months without help. "They're needed because they're one of the biggest employers in every community in New York, whether it's urban, suburban like here in Camillus, or rural."
That's the point, Senator. Instead of dwelling on racial or gender equity, the COVID-19 relief bill should focus on ensuring economic survival. All will benefit.
On taking office, President Joe Biden pledged that his "priority will be Black, Latino, Asian and Native-American owned businesses" and "women-owned businesses." So it's no surprise that Section 4201 of his COVID-19 relief bill sets aside over $1 billion of loans for women and minority small-business owners only. As if they're the only ones struggling.
In New York City, 47% of small businesses have closed, and those hanging on have incurred a nearly 60% drop in revenue, according to TracktheRecovery.org, a Harvard University database. Minority businesses are often hardest hit, but government help should be based on need and viability, not a business owner's gender or skin color.
It's what the Constitution requires. When Oregon and Colorado set aside COVID-19 relief funds for minority businesses only, white business owners sued, demanding equal treatment.
If Congress enacts provisions discriminating against white men, the federal government should be sued, too.
As Congress debates the COVID relief bill, Republicans should protest the racist giveaways. They've hardly mentioned them, and the public is unaware. More are on the way.
Warnock and four other Democrats, including New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, introduced a bill on Feb. 5 to give 32 million acres of farmland to Black farmers over the next 10 years. Reparations without the label. What's next -- tax credits for being Black?
Racism will never cure past racism. It's not how to unite the nation.