By Karen Breslau
California’s reparations task force is leaving a decision on potential monetary compensation for eligible African American residents to state lawmakers.
In its nearly 1,200-page final report, the task force on Thursday recommended the state issue a formal apology for human rights violations, establish a curriculum on its findings for all grade levels and make greater investments in Black communities. But it stopped short of recommending a dollar figure for compensation, instead offering calculation models the legislature can use, should it approve payments.
The task force delivered its report after spending two years documenting discriminatory laws and practices linked to slavery, which was never legal in California. They calculated $800 billion in economic and other harms to Black residents since the state’s founding in 1850. Lawmakers will have the summer to read the report and are expected to start proposing legislation in September.
“Our nation has for too long overlooked the atrocities visited upon African Americans or consigned them to vestiges of the past,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement. “This final report decisively establishes that now is the time for California to acknowledge the state’s role in perpetuating these harms, and ensure that through a comprehensive approach to reparations, we commit ourselves to the healing and restoration of our African American residents.”
The California Department of Justice supervised the task force of outside experts. Made up of consulting economists, policymakers and international reparations experts, the group assessed the losses across six categories: health disparities; mass incarceration and over-policing; housing discrimination, devaluation of African-American businesses; unjust property takings by eminent domain; and labor discrimination.
“It’s nearly impossible to put a dollar figure on these human rights violations,” said task force Chair Kamilah Moore in an interview.
To help close the wealth, educational and health gaps it identified, the panel issued more than 100 recommendations for the legislature to fund improvements in housing, schools, health care and businesses in Black communities. The task force also recommended that eligible students be able to attend the state’s publicly funded colleges and universities tuition-free.
Moore said the recommendation wouldn’t be affected by Thursday’s Supreme Court decision striking down affirmative action in university admissions, because the panel intentionally recommended that lineage, rather than race alone, be the standard for eligibility. The task force defined lineage to mean anyone descended from a free or enslaved African American person in the US prior to 1900.
Rather than propose dollar amounts for individual compensation, the task force detailed methods for the legislature to use in calculating payments they might approve for eligible residents. Compensation amounts, if any, would depend on the length of residency in California and the harms documented.
To assist residents in documenting eligibility and applying for programs or compensation they would be qualified to receive, the panel recommended the state establish a new department, the California American Freedmen’s Affairs Agency, modeled on the Freedmen’s Bureau created by the US government after the Civil War.
The task force also deferred to the legislature on how to fund reparations should they be approved. After years of budget surpluses, California now faces a projected $32 billion budget deficit, and Governor Gavin Newsom, who supported the creation of the task force in 2020 following the police killing of George Floyd, has since urged caution about committing additional funds to reparations, as opposed to symbolic measures such as an official apology.
“It is not a preposterous idea — it’s not welfare, it’s not a check in the mail,” said Donald Tamaki, a task force member, civil rights advocate and expert on Japanese-American reparations. “It goes to the very heart of who we are as Americans.”
More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com.