How to Prioritize Equity in the Infrastructure Bill

Experts recommend a more rigorous focus on equity considerations as the federal government begins to select projects to fund through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

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January 3, 2022, 6:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Syracuse Highway

George Foster / flickr

An article by Carlos Martín, Andre M. Perry, and Anthony Barr asks, "Unlike the massive federal expenditures of the past, does the new infrastructure law cement racial equity into our built environment?" The authors assess the inclusion of equity considerations in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), noting "seven ways in which equity is not prioritized" and how these gaps could be addressed. 

According to the authors, the biggest and most consequential oversight in the bill is the lack of "targeted and transparent earmarks" aimed specifically at disinvested communities. "Without the sticks of rigorous and explicit statutory requirements on how states can use the funds, states may not even consider equity when selecting their projects—as what happened recently with large block grants in the American Rescue Plan." The authors recommend close monitoring of projects to ensure a focus on equity.

The article also recommends refining competitive grants to center equity, building local capacity in disinvested places, integrating economic development with equitable job opportunities, and acting quickly to start implementing projects. However, the authors warn that "if we want to ensure prosperity for all in the future, the IIJA is only a down payment on the debt that is owed to communities who have been denied resources."

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