The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will discuss a proposal this Tuesday during a board meeting that would give $5 million to qualifying Black residents in reparations.
The proposal is one way the city could make amends for slavery.
The city’s African American Reparations Advisory Committee will present the idea, and other recommendations from its draft reparations plan released at the end of 2022.
The plan includes recommendations such as grants to buy and maintain homes and exempting Black businesses from paying taxes. But there is controversy surrounding the idea. The board questions the large lump sum’s effect on the city’s budget, which is already suffering.
Still, it’s up to the Board of Supervisors, which can vote to adopt all, none, or some of the committee’s recommendations and make changes.
Tuesday’s hearing was on the agenda last month but was delayed.
An estimated 50,000 Black people live in San Francisco. However, it hasn’t been determined who among those would be eligible for reparations. Under the draft plan, a person must be at least 18 years old and identified as “Black/African American” in public documents for at least ten years. Those eligible must also meet two of eight other criteria, such as living in San Francisco during a specific period or descending from someone incarcerated for the police war on drugs.
“There wasn’t a math formula,” Eric McDonnell, chair of the reparations committee, recently told the Washington Post, describing the process of coming to its $5 million per person recommendation. “It was a journey for the committee towards what could represent a significant enough investment in families to put them on this path to economic well-being, growth, and vitality that chattel slavery and all the policies that flowed from it destroyed.”
John Dennis, chair of the San Francisco Republican Party, has lambasted the lump-sum payments as impractical.
“This conversation we’re having in San Francisco is completely unserious. They just threw a number up, there’s no analysis,” he told The Associated Press. “It seems ridiculous, and it also seems that this is the one city where it could possibly pass.”
San Francisco never allowed slavery, and the state entered the union in 1860 as a free state, which opponents have used as their argument, saying it doesn’t make sense for people who never enslaved people to give money to people who never were enslaved as a way of atoning for slavery.
However, supporters argue that Blacks faced systemic discrimination even after slavery was abolished.
“While neither San Francisco nor California formally adopted the institution of chattel slavery, the tenets of segregation, white supremacy, and systematic repression and exclusion of black people were codified through legal and extralegal actions, social codes, and judicial enforcement,” the committee’s draft reparations plan stated. “A lump sum payment would compensate the affected population for the decades of harms that they have experienced and will redress the economic and opportunity losses that Black San Franciscans have endured, collectively, as the result of both intentional decisions and unintended harms perpetuated by city policy.”
The panel also introduced a “comprehensive debt forgiveness” program that would wipe out all personal, educational, and credit card debt of low-income Black households.
The committee’s final report is due in June, and San Francisco has no timeline to act on its recommendations.
The California Reparations Task Force is also debating over a proposal to dish out nearly $360,000 per person to approximately 1.8 million Black Californians who had an ancestor enslaved in the U.S., putting the program’s total cost at about $640 billion.