By Alan Jenkins, Executive Director of The Opportunity Agenda
[Today], Washington, DC will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 march on Washington. The march [last weekend] united some 250,000 people of all backgrounds in a call for justice and equal opportunity for all. While our nation has made major progress toward that goal, there is still a great distance to be travelled.”
Among the great achievements of the ’63 march was the passage, less than a year later, of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed racial discrimination in public accommodations, in public education, and in federally funded programs and projects. The ’64 Act was the first federal civil rights law with teeth after a decade of delay, filibusters, and intentionally impotent legislation. Since that time, nearly every federal department and agency has adopted regulations to implement Title VI of the Act, which outlaws discrimination in federally funded programs. Those regulations, and their enforcement, have helped to bring equal opportunity and freedom from discrimination to thousands of health, transportation, educational, environmental, and other programs and institutions throughout the nation. They have expanded opportunity for millions of Americans and strengthened our nation tremendously”
But fifty years after Dr. King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech, the US Treasury Department has still not adopted regulations implementing that provision of the Civil Rights Act, and the nation is poorer for that omission. The most pressing example is the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program, which incentivizes private construction of homes that working class Americans can afford to rent. Title VI rules for the LIHTC program would guarantee that exclusionary local policies and customs like local ‘residency preferences’ or cronyism do not exclude families of color from homes they can afford, or the pathway to opportunity that a safe and affordable home provides.
The Treasury Department stands virtually alone among federal agencies in its failure to adopt these basic protections.
Adoption of Title VI regulations for the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program is a step that is long overdue. These basic civil rights protections are legally required, and they will bring tangible benefits to millions of low-income families and children. By connecting more Americans to opportunity, they will also seed our nation’s long-term prosperity.
The ’64 Civil Rights Act is the most tangible and systemic outcome of the March on Washington. Fifty years after the March, it’s full promise should be realized.
About Alan Jenkins:
Alan Jenkins is Executive Director of The Opportunity Agenda, a communications, research, and policy organization dedicated to building the national will to expand opportunity in America. Before joining The Opportunity Agenda, Alan was Director of Human Rights at the Ford Foundation, managing grant making in the United States and eleven overseas regions. Previously, he served as Assistant to the Solicitor General at the U.S. Department of Justice, where he represented the United States government in constitutional and other litigation before the U.S. Supreme Court. Prior to that, he was Associate Counsel to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., where he defended the rights of low-income communities facing exploitation and discrimination.
About The Opportunity Agenda:
The Opportunity Agenda is a national organization that conducts research on media and public opinion in order to understand how to build public support for policies that improve peoples’ lives. Their programs focus on racial equity and African-American men and boys, as well as immigration, economic opportunity, reproductive health and rights.