The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which was signed into law last month and would cost an estimated $1.2 trillion, is an unprecedentedly large expenditure.
.The history of such large-scale federal expenditures indicates, however, that they have resulted in a racial disparity in both the distribution of benefits and the distribution of costs associated with the subsequent projects. For instance, in the early 1960s, building of the Interstate Highway slashed through Black communities in Houston, New Orleans, and Nashville, Tennessee.
But in the end, these are merely administrative regulations, not binding statutes. There is still the question of whether or not the new infrastructure law would permanently establish racial justice in our built environment, in contrast to the large federal spending of the past.
The IIJA does not, alas, make significant forward in the discussion of equity. Overall, it’s business as usual, with no specific references to Justice40 and continued investment for traditional infrastructure (like motorways) that have caused problems in the past. In this article, we’ll take a look at seven areas where the IIJA falls short in terms of fairness, and discuss how these pitfalls might be addressed when the programme rules and project selections roll out over the following five years.
Why it’s Crucial to Identify Specific Targets when Investing Strategically
The majority of the funding from the IIJA goes to already established government programmes, many of which rely on stale mandates like environmental evaluations and token community engagement to ensure fair investment in underserved areas. Certain jurisdictions, such as tribal territories, are singled out for additional financing under the IIJA so that they may make direct investments in disadvantaged populations.
Because of the demographic trends in certain areas, new investments are also moving to certain locales (such rural villages) that indirectly benefit certain racial groups. Moreover, some of the IIJA’s place-based monies address equity indirectly; for instance, expanding Superfund and Brownfields remediation programmes always benefits the neighbours of such sites, who are often low-income households or households of colour.
Finally, the current home weatherization assistance programme and the broadband connectivity assistance already take into account household disadvantage when distributing cash to states. Despite not being explicitly stated, the new “digital equity” funding from the IIJA compel states to evaluate broadband inequalities that are likely reflective of racial disparities.
However, it is clear that even with these reserves, not all underserved populations will be helped, nor will the health, financial, and social costs that toxic sites and concentrated disinvestments originally generated be alleviated.
It is not Mandatory for States to use Formula Funds in Underinvested Areas.
The vast majority of IIJA resources are allocated to replenishing and augmenting grants already distributed to states according to predetermined measures. When compared to discretionary and competitive grants, which total around $1 in size, there are roughly $3 in formula grants.
The transportation fund, the largest pot in the IIJA, distributes 90% of its funds through formula awards. The extra $15 billion for lead service pipe replacements is distributed in the same manner as the $23 billion for clean water and drinking water revolving funds, which are based on periodic water quality evaluation.
It is Necessary to Further Refine Competitive Grants with Stringent Equity Requirements.
It has always been clear that competitive awards are more adaptable to concepts for projects that address specific needs, such as those that target historically underinvested communities. Some of the IIJA’s new competitive grant programmes are developed with equality in mind; the Reconnecting Communities initiative, for instance, is meant to repair damage done by highway building in the past.
Many government initiatives, such as those promoting “healthy streets,” electric vehicle charging credits, and passenger rail lines, highlight the need to give low-income areas first priority. The regulations of the programme are changing to accommodate new sources of funding.
Strengthen both the Public and Private Players in under Supported Areas in Order To Build Local Capacity
The IIJA provides less funding for competitive grants than entitlements, thus low-performing jurisdictions have less of an incentive to apply, especially in light of the increased scrutiny of competitive grants thanks to the IIJA. States’ historical reluctance to embrace such chances has often done their residents a disservice.
Better integrating Economic Growth With Fair Employment Prospects is a Priority.
By strengthening the Minority Business Development Agency and establishing various new business centre programmes, advisory councils, and grants to charities that help minority businesses, the IIJA ensures that firms in underserved neighbourhoods are not forgotten. As state bids for the IIJA begin to roll out, it will be crucial to ensure that these efforts translate to possibilities for state and local bidding.
While We Must Conduct Equity Analyses, Immediate Action is Required.
The IIJA has financed multiple studies that examine the disproportionate impact that infrastructure investments in minority and low-income areas have had in the past and in the present. The examination of clean water in tiny and disadvantaged communities is one such study that is essential for providing evidence for future legislation.
In Order to Rise to the Challenge, Investment Returns must be High Enough.
It’s not the IIJA that contains the largest equity gap. The question is whether or not the budget is adequate, taking into account not only the engineering capacity shortfalls of future infrastructure but also the full social and economic costs of past disinvestment. During talks, funding for many of the IIJA’s equality programmes was severely reduced.