It could cost California more than $800 billion to pay Black residents of the state reparations for slavery and discrimination, economists have told a state panel.
The preliminary estimate is more than 2.5 times California’s $300 billion annual budget, and that does not include a recommended $1 million per older Black resident over a shorter average life span. Nor does that huge taxpayer-funded bill count compensating people for property taken by the government or devaluing Black businesses, two other harms the task force says the state perpetuated.
California was never a slave state and no people of African descent were ever enslaved there. The 13th Amendment which abolished slavery in the United States was signed into law by then-President Abraham Lincoln 158 years ago.
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Black residents may not receive cash payments anytime soon, if ever, because the state may never adopt the economists’ calculations. The reparations task force is scheduled to discuss the numbers Wednesday and can vote to adopt the suggestions or come up with its own figures. The proposed number comes from a consulting team of five economists and policy experts.
“We’ve got to go in with an open mind and come up with some creative ways to deal with this,” said Assembly member Reggie Jones-Sawyer, one of two lawmakers on the task force responsible for mustering support from state legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom before any reparations could become reality.
The task force was assembled in the summer of 2020 during the nationwide unrest following the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by police officers in Minnesota.
In an interview prior to the meeting, Jones-Sawyer said he needed to consult budget analysts, other legislators and the governor’s office before deciding whether the scale of payments is feasible.
Critics say current taxpayers should not be responsible for damage linked to events that germinated hundreds of years ago.
Task force recommendations are just the start because ultimate authority rests with the state Assembly, Senate, and the governor.
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Financial redress is just one part of the package being considered. Other proposals include paying incarcerated inmates market value for their labor, establishing free wellness centers and planting more trees in Black communities, banning cash bail, and adopting a K-12 Black studies curriculum.
An advisory committee in San Francisco has recommended $5 million payouts, as well as guaranteed income of at least $97,000 for Black residents for 250 years, and personal debt forgiveness for qualifying individuals
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article