Jun 15, 2022 - News

St. Paul takes step toward reparations for Black residents

Illustration of St. Paul City Hall with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Reparations for Black descendants of slaves living in St. Paul are one step closer to reality this week, but big questions remain about funding sources and the scope of the benefits.

What's happening: The City Council will meet today to hear an independent committee's recommendations for the next phase of St. Paul's push to address the generational wealth gap in the Black community.

The big picture: While the national reparations effort has stalled in Congress, some local and state governments across the country are grappling with whether and how to compensate Black Americans for the harm caused by slavery and the decades of discrimination that followed.

Zoom in: The St. Paul committee's new report outlines a framework for an 11-member permanent advisory commission tasked with overseeing the creation programs that could provide direct cash payments or other forms of economic assistance to eligible residents.

What they're saying: Trahern Crews, an activist and organizer who served as a convener of the advisory committee, said the permanent commission should take a holistic approach to addressing one of the biggest racial wealth gaps in the country.

  • "Direct cash payment is at the top, but then there's things that follow that: Housing, education, health and wellness, business [opportunities] and the criminal injustice system," he said.

What they're hearing: Crews said a common thread in community feedback the committee collected was a desire that the programs prioritize people whose families and livelihoods were impacted by the destruction of the predominantly Black Rondo neighborhood to make way for Interstate 94 in the 1950s.

  • Other forms of assistance, including targeted school loans and a forgivable down-payment assistance fund also had community support.

The big questions: The effort could add up to significant sums — potentially hitting tens of millions of dollars, depending on programs or compensation levels approved — and it's not yet clear where that money would come from.

  • The full commission will also need to come up with guidelines for how residents can apply and document their eligibility. Additional resources could be needed to help residents with necessary genealogical research and documentation.

The intrigue: The report identifies a number of potential funding sources, including sales taxes, land sale proceeds and philanthropic donations.

  • Unspent federal American Rescue Plan dollars could be used for some related programs, the report notes, but Council President Amy Brendmoen said it's unlikely those funds could be used for direct payments.

The response: Mayor Melvin Carter told Axios that officials should look to "not just the city's general funds, not just taxpayers, but our whole community... to [identify] funding to address the historic inequities that remain in our city."

Between the lines: The source of the cash could become a central issue in the debate moving forward. Some national polling suggests a majority of Americans are opposed to using taxpayer funding for payments.

What's next: The city council will hear the committee's recommendations and formally accept report today. A proposed ordinance put forward by the committee would establish the permanent commission's structure.

  • Brendmoen, meanwhile, commended the committee's work in an interview with Axios, saying it "sets the stage for a very robust conversation going forward."

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