Providence’s mayor proposed spending $10 million in federal coronavirus pandemic aid on financial literacy and homeownership, workforce training, small business development and other programs recently recommended by the city’s reparations commission.
Mayor Jorge Elorza’s spending plan, released Thursday, also calls for using $250,000 in federal money to launch a legal defense fund for residents facing eviction, $400,000 dedicated to directly support Black and Native American residents displaced and negatively impacted by urban renewal and $500,000 to expand the guaranteed income program for low income residents that launched last summer, among other initiatives.
The Democratic mayor also signed an executive order formally apologizing on behalf of Rhode Island’s capital city for its role in slavery, urban renewal and other racist and discriminatory practices.
“Only by formally acknowledging the generational effects of discriminatory policies, bringing those impacted to the table as decision-makers, and making significant investments in the communities targeted by those policies, can we collectively move forward and each of us become full and equal members of our society,” Elorza said in a statement.
Rodney Davis, who chaired the Providence Municipal Reparations Commission, applauded Elorza for issuing a formal city apology, as the commission had recommended.
“We have to believe something is wrong in order to fix it,” he said.
But he demurred when asked if he thought the spending plan was the best use of the federal money, given the commission’s many recommendations.
“We feel like $10 million is nice, but it’s definitely not enough for true reparations,” Davis said. “We also recognize this is a city effort and true reparations have to be on a larger scale. It has to not just be government, but also private enterprise.”
The reparations commission report released Monday listed a range of programs and efforts Providence could undertake to begin atoning for its extensive ties to the transatlantic slave trade and the centuries of racism and discrimination that followed.
But it didn’t recommend giving out direct payments to Black and Native American residents impacted by slave and other discrimination, as some had called for. Instead, it defined “reparations” as efforts that close the “present-day racial wealth and equity gaps.”
The mayor’s proposal now goes to the city council.
“While we cannot undo the harm that has been done, I am confident these programs and investments will make great strides in closing the racial wealth and equity gaps that exist in Providence,” Elorza said.