On the Hill Race

Reparations Bill Proposed in Congress

Democrats in the House of Representatives have introduced a reparations bill. The Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act (H.R. 40) would create a dedicated federal committee tasked with studying the consequences of slavery and creating comprehensive recommendations for reparations.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, reparations are actions that “make amends, offering expiation (atonement), or giving satisfaction for a wrong or injury.” The reparations being discussed by the House are reparations specifically surrounding slavery, and its legacy of systemic racism faced by Black Americans. Most calls for slavery reparations are centered on financial compensation for Black people – due to slavery’s direct impact on the racial wealth gap.

This bill comes amidst weeks of demonstrations protesting against the long-standing history of anti-Black racism and police brutality in the US, catalyzed by the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahumaud Arbery, Sean Reed, Nina Pop, and Tony McDade.

H.R. 40, which is named after the original idea of reparations: 40 acres and a mule, is not new to Congress. Representative John Conyers, who retired in 2017, had been championing the bill since 1989. Furthermore, the case for slavery reparations is not new to the United States. Black Americans have been advocating for reparations since 1783, when Belinda Royall, a formerly enslaved person, won compensation for her unpaid labor.

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, the sponsor of the bill, believes it will pass the House – especially given the current moment. According to her office, 128 members of the House Democratic Caucus are in support of H.R. 40. The bill saw a Judiciary Committee hearing in 2019, and its next steps are a full committee hearing and a vote – which the House Majority Leader’s office confirmed will happen if H.R. 40 survives committee. A companion bill has been sponsored in the Senate by Senator Cory Booker, but its fate is uncertain given Mitch McConnell’s hard stance against reparations.

Sources: CNN 06/19, ACLU 06/19, Teen Vogue 06/19, New York Times 06/19, Forbes 06/19, NBC 06/19

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