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Infrastructure bill can make good on Biden-Harris’ pledges for racial equity | Opinion

And Pa.'s congressional delegation should waste no time in lending their support.

Rep. Jordan Harris (left) shakes the hand of Pittsburgh controller Michael Lamb at an event for the Pennsylvania Society on Dec. 6, 2019.
Rep. Jordan Harris (left) shakes the hand of Pittsburgh controller Michael Lamb at an event for the Pennsylvania Society on Dec. 6, 2019.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

Infrastructure is about equity, and as our federal representatives spend the next several weeks in Washington working on President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, equity must be at the forefront of the discussion on the infrastructure agreement and the budget blueprint, commonly referred to as reconciliation. Writing not only as an elected official but as a citizen who wants to see the economic and social vitality of my community strengthened, I strongly urge Pennsylvania’s entire congressional delegation to support the infrastructure bill and reconciliation for the good of all working people — regardless of what they look like or where they live — across our state.

Earlier this summer, in my position as Democratic whip in the state House, I saw the Republican-led state legislature decide to stash away critical funds designated for our state under the American Rescue Plan instead of investing in our communities and providing relief from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. For months prior to the passage of our state budget, House Democrats had pushed to reinvest in Pennsylvania using ARP funds to increase equity by fixing our infrastructure, expanding broadband access, supporting frontline health care workers, helping our small mom-and-pop businesses, and myriad other worthwhile investments that would propel Pennsylvania and our hardworking families forward.

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Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. It was a missed opportunity for bipartisanship and didn’t help working people across the state. Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation should not make the same mistake.

The Biden-Harris administration has been deliberate by including “racial equity” as a priority in their plans, and passing the infrastructure deal as well as the reconciliation package would help level the playing field for underserved communities here in Pennsylvania.

Look no further than just a sliver of what is being proposed.

Pennsylvania would see economic and environmental benefits from the infrastructure deal that benefit all Pennsylvanians, not to mention a focused repair to our crumbling roads and bridges. But the commonwealth would also see equity through infrastructure, with improvements to public transit that would disproportionately benefit low-income and Black populations that rely on it most. And it would improve digital equity by expanding broadband access.

The reconciliation package would allow for the extension of the child tax credit, which would drastically cut child poverty across racial groups — allowing many taxpaying families to stop having to choose between chasing down their American dreams and raising their children. It offers two years of free community college and an increase in the Pell Grants awarded to undergraduates who demonstrate financial aid, which would open more doors for communities of color to access higher education. And it provides billions in funding for more affordable, modernized and safer housing, which will create more pathways to home ownership.

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These are just a few of the myriad ways Black, Latino, and AAPI communities stand to benefit from the legislation currently being debated in the halls of Congress.

There are some who may not see these things I’ve described as important or timely investments in our communities. That, perhaps, is because they have always had access to all those things and can’t imagine a world without them. As for the many families and individuals across the commonwealth who are struggling to make ends meet as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, these investments in infrastructure and more could prove vital to the productive living of American life for so many. I’ve worked with many members of our state’s congressional delegation and have served with some in the state House, and I know they want to do what’s best for our state.

Members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation ultimately answer to their own constituents, but I am hopeful that when it comes to the legislation at hand they remember that we are all Pennsylvanians — and all Americans — before making a final decision.

Jordan A. Harris is Democratic member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, representing the 186th Legislative District.