The redevelopment of the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina significantly altered the demographics of New Orleans, disproportionately displacing African Americans, families with children and the poor. But a new American Constitution Society Issue Brief argues that the rebuilding effort could have instead produced a more equitable and prosperous region, had the federal government allocated funding with an eye toward equal opportunity.
In “Promoting Opportunity through Impact Statements: A Tool for Policymakers to Assess Equity,” lawyers from The Opportunity Agenda call for a requirement that applicants and recipients of government funding submit a statement on the impact a proposed project will have on opportunity for Black communities.
“Governmental bodies can expand opportunity each time they support or control any number of projects, from highways and mass transit lines, to schools and hospitals, to land use and economic development, to law enforcement and environmental protection,” writes a team from The Opportunity Agenda led by Executive Director Alan Jenkins. “… All too often, however, such projects perpetuate or even deepen unequal opportunity and further isolate affected communities from resources.”
In the Gulf Coast, “lucrative federal hurricane recovery contracts that had the potential to reinvigorate local businesses and economies went mostly to large, out-of-state companies” while Black contractors were largely overlooked.
Impact statements are already used to assess the effects of a proposed rule or action in other areas. Environmental Impact Statements, for example, are required when a project is expected to have a significant environmental impact, and Fiscal Impact Statements are issued by the Congressional Budget Office to assess the costs and benefits of legislation.
In calling for an “Opportunity Impact Statement,” the authors point out that a substantial body of statutes, regulations and executive orders already require agencies to ensure that recipients of federal funds do not discriminate, but that “enforcement mechanisms have been significantly neglected over most of the past several decades.”
“A coordinated process is needed to ensure that public funding complies with anti-discrimination laws and not only confronts barriers to opportunity that affect regions throughout the United States, but also builds the foundation necessary to give all communities a chance to achieve economic security and mobility,” they write.