Skip to main content

By Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies


The student loan debt crisis threatens the economic security of Black women, according to ​​CLASP (Center for Law and Social Policy). Black women carry about 20% more debt than white women ($33,851 vs. $41,466) in undergraduate loans one year after graduation.

Read the full article here.

By J Geiman 

In 1972, the second reauthorization of the federal Higher Education Act (HEA) created the program we now know as the Pell Grant. It was the product of efforts by both policymakers and lobbyists, including its namesake Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI), as well as the late Lois Dickson Rice–a daughter of working-class Jamaican immigrants who earned the moniker “the mother of Pell” for her contributions to the program. Decades of expansions have made Pell a cornerstone of the federal student aid system and a vital support for students with lower incomes. 

Nevertheless, much has changed since 1972, including our economy, the demands of our workforce, and the demographics of our postsecondary student population. As we celebrate 50 years of Pell, we are at a critical moment to ensure the program meets these changing needs now—and in the decades to come. Here are three of CLASP’s key recommendations for the future of the program: 

1. Double the award amount and index the grant to inflation.

When Pell was created, the traditional college student was young, financially dependent on their parents, and attending school full time. In fact, the definition of an “independent student”—one who is 24 years or older, caring for dependents, homeless or in foster care, or otherwise financially independent—was not introduced into the HEA until 1986.  

Today, however, independent students make up the majority of all U.S. college students. These students face additional financial barriers, being responsible not only for educational expenses but basic needs for themselves and dependents including housing, food, transportation, and child care—which have dramatically increased in price while wages have stagnated. At the same time, independent students may face a higher opportunity cost for pursuing a degree, often needing to cut work hours to make time for classes and coursework. 

Policymakers have made incremental increases to the Pell Grant over the years, but the current maximum award amount of $6,895 does little to address the rising total cost of higher education for this new college majority. Doubling the Pell award as proposed in President Biden’s FY23 budget would help students with lower incomes access college without overreliance on student loans. Furthermore, ensuring the award is permanently indexed to inflation would help maintain its purchasing power over the years. 

2. Pass Short-term Pell to help students access quality workforce training programs.

Our economy and workforce have also changed since the 1970s. Roughly 52 percent of today’s jobs require more than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year degree. However, only 43 percent of workers have access to the training and education programs that would prepare them to enter these jobs. One potential avenue to access these jobs is through short-term credential programs, such as those offered through many community colleges—but these programs are ineligible for most federal student aid including Pell Grants.  

The House-passed America COMPETES Act would expand Pell access to students enrolled in qualifying short-term credential programs. Critically, current language in the bill provides quality controls for the types of programs these funds can be used for, including ensuring they are offered by Eligible Training Providers; that they meet definitions of career pathways under both the HEA and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA); and that they lead to gainful employment. With these important guardrails in place, Short-term Pell represents an opportunity for students from families and communities with low incomes to access career-relevant skills training—and for employers in sectors like construction, manufacturing, and health care to address critical labor and skills shortages. 

3. Expand Pell access to undocumented students.

Immigrant students make up an ever-increasing proportion of our student population and face complex barriers to postsecondary access and success. In particular, undocumented students are ineligible for federal student aid, including Pell Grants. At the same time, only 21 states and the District of Columbia allow these students to access in-state tuition rates, putting a postsecondary degree out of reach even at a public institution. While many undocumented individuals arrived as children and have called the U.S. home for most of their lives, their status is a barrier to continuing their education and accessing the full opportunities of the workforce. 

While the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is uncertain, policymakers should lift the restrictions on federal student aid for undocumented students who received or would be eligible for DACA status, as well as those with temporary protected status (TPS). Access to the Pell Grant would be of particular support in helping these students access quality postsecondary education programs. 

Policymakers are at a critical moment to make transformative investments in the Pell Grant. They can use the current budget appropriations process, individual policies like the America COMPETES Act, and an eventual reauthorization to the Higher Education Act—which has stalled since March 2020—to lay the groundwork for the next 50 years of the program. We urge the administration and Congress to commit to ensuring the Pell Grant works for those who need it most and remains relevant to the needs of America’s changing student demographics. 

By Christian Collins

This Juneteenth, the annual reflection of this country’s historical mistreatment of Black Americans must consider the impact of white supremacy on higher education policy. Access to higher education and the accompanying socioeconomic advantages provided by postsecondary degree attainment have long been withheld from Black communities. Even when managing to access pathways to higher education, Black students have long experienced lower retention and graduation rates than other racial groups, and this disparity is especially evident for Black men.

Juneteenth’s truth telling offers a remedy for Black men’s falling enrollment rates caused by expansive and harmful institutional racism on Black Americans. Higher education is a known pathway to achieving socioeconomic equality, which is why federal policy that’s been rooted in racism has historically worked to deny Black men access to postsecondary education and associated benefits. The only way to bridge the current gaps between state goals and actual degree attainment achieved by Black men is by addressing the structural inequities that reduce the likelihood of Black male students accessing higher education.

The declining enrollment rates of Black men at undergraduate institutions have only been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Between fall 2019 and 2021, Black men experienced a 14.8 percent enrollment drop, compared to a 10.2 percent drop across all males. At community colleges, Black men’s enrollment decreased 23.5 percent in the same period, second only to Native American men among men and women of all racial groups. These trends indicate that the same societal inequities that many hoped to be resolved on June 19, 1865, are still as pervasive and effective as ever in preventing Black men’s upward economic mobility. Experts point to many factors for why Black men either decide against or are prevented from pursuing higher education. These include reduced access to financial resources and support, disproportionately receiving punitive discipline in pre-college years, and having to navigate educational campuses openly hostile to their existence.

Policy Changes Can Reverse Declining Enrollment Rates for Black Men

Targeted financial supports that bridge the income and wealth gaps faced by Black men are crucial to reversing declining community college enrollment rates, including re-balancing the amount of public education funding meant for higher education. Since the late 1970s, the share of college-related costs paid by students and their families has increased from 33 percent to 46 percent in 2020. In fact, Black community college graduates represent the highest percentage of loan borrowers by race and borrow the highest average amount while completing their degrees. Congress must correct the ratio of public funding through the long-overdue reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) to match federal grants and financial aid with rising tuition and other educational costs.

Notable among provisions available for Congress to alleviate barriers to accessing postsecondary education are the collection of eight programs known as TRiO, which provide federal outreach and services for individuals from communities that have been historically disadvantaged. These programs were specifically formed as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty and have since served as critical lifelines to help Black men navigate the social, academic, and financial challenges of postsecondary education. Between 1965 and 2021, total national TRiO participation from all demographics of students has grown from 3,261 to 854,929, yet funding per participant for all TRiO programs has fallen between 1997 and 2021.

Tuition is only one of the barriers preventing Black men from accessing postsecondary opportunities, as many students also navigate food and housing insecurities they must manage while considering the monetary and time costs of community college. Nearly 70 percent of surveyed students attending predominantly Black two-year institutions experienced food insecurity within 30 days prior to being surveyed, in addition to housing insecurity or homelessness in the year prior. We can support increased enrollment among Black men by expanding the accessibility of federal benefits programs for students though eliminating unnecessary restrictions to program eligibility and providing guidance for students to know which programs they qualify for. Increasing funding for other discretionary grants like the U.S. Department of Education’s Basic Needs for Postsecondary Students Program is also paramount to maximizing the ability of community colleges to address basic needs insecurities for their students by preventing limitations of awards due to lack of funds.

Redressing Declining Black Male Enrollment Rates Requires a Meaningful Support System

Higher education is just one branch of the tree of systemic racism, but dedicated efforts to increase access to higher education pathways for Black men are key in helping them achieve the same social mobility that other demographics enjoy. These efforts must also be combined with increased supports for Black children, as structural barriers preventing Black men from enrolling in community college often begin in the K-12 system. While our nation has made substantial progress in providing the public good of a community college education to Black men, we need new policy solutions to protect these students from persistent systemic inequities that influence their enrollment rates.

By J Geiman & Alpha S. Taylor

President Biden ran on an agenda that included student debt relief for the more than 44 million borrowers who collectively owe over $1.6 trillion. This would be in line with the Biden Administration’s racial equity goals, as it would include relief for the millions of Black borrowers who are disproportionately affected by the student loan crisis. While the administration has made progress in providing limited cancellation to a small percentage of borrowers, most are still waiting for relief as the president considers potential models for broader cancellation. Regardless of what the administration decides with respect to cancellation, much remains to be done to reform the college funding and student loan servicing systems to end the student debt crisis.

The student debt crisis is particularly dire for Black borrowers. Black degree-seekers are more likely to take out student loans to pay for higher education than white students, and they carry the largest average student loan debt of all racial demographics in the nation. Additionally, workforce inequities leave college-educated Black workers with higher rates of un- and underemployment and lower earnings than similarly educated white peers, making it even harder for these borrowers to escape from the burden of student loan debt. Black students are also more likely to leave college without a degree, leaving them saddled with student loan debt without the benefits of a degree. As a result, the higher education system has not served as a great equalizer to provide populations with lower wealth and lower incomes a path for socioeconomic mobility. Instead, like all other major U.S. institutions, the higher education system has perpetuated and exacerbated existing inequities, particularly when it comes to race.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created even more barriers to both postsecondary success and workers’ economic stability, and Black Americans are still struggling to make a full economic recovery. The pause on student loan payments has temporarily eased the financial stress of student debt for millions of borrowers during the public health emergency. However, this relief is only temporary. Without broad-based cancellation and reforms to the student loan and federal student aid systems, the U.S. higher education system will continue to hinder, rather than support, Black Americans’ economic mobility.

In this paper, the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) explore the disproportionate impact of student debt on Black borrowers. We also make recommendations to address the dual student loan and college affordability crises through federal policies and executive action. These steps include administrative action to extend the student loan payment pause; ensure a smooth transition of loan accounts to new servicers; provide increased protections for borrowers, particularly those who are victims of predatory lending and for-profit colleges; improve existing repayment options, including Income-Driven Repayment (IDR); and invest in college affordability through federal grants like the Pell Grant, a federal free community college program, and support for student basic needs.

>> Read the full report here

By Amy Norton

People with lingering debt also had higher blood levels of CRP. That’s an important finding, McDade said, since it links student debt to a biological marker of chronic inflammation — though it doesn’t prove the strain of debt is the cause.

The findings were published May 3 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Other research has tied student debt to serious mental health tolls, according to J. Geiman, a policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy in Washington, D.C.

For example, a 2021 survey found that 1 in 14 high-debt student loan borrowers had ever thought about suicide due to the financial burden.

Student debt is also a matter of health equity, said Geiman, who was not involved in the new study: Black Americans, on average, take out more student loans and borrow more money, while reaping fewer rewards — with lower college graduation rates than most other racial and ethnic groups. So, they are more likely to bear the substantial downsides of borrowing.

>>Read full article

By Christian Collins

It’s Community College Month, which is a great time for policymakers to consider how to support the more than 40 percent of undergraduate students who attend community colleges. At the federal level, President Biden’s proposed FY2023 federal budget takes a strong step toward increased national investment in higher education by boosting funds for the Pell Grant program and minority-serving institutions such as HBCUs. Noticeably absent, however, is any momentum toward universal free community college. The lack of federal movement presents a challenge for advocates of expanding educational opportunities. However, states and municipalities have countered by passing or expanding their own programs to provide tuition-free higher educational opportunities.

Chief among recent advances for tuition-free education programs is the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship Act signed into law last month. The Act has the distinction of being the only state-funded scholarship program in the nation that 1) is available to both recent high school graduates and returning adult learners, 2) can be used for full-time and part-time studies, and 3) can be used for training certificates in addition to associate and bachelor’s degrees. The program covers full tuition and fees at in-state public higher education institutions, and the scholarship lets students “stack” other aid received through federal aid or private scholarships to obtain additional funds to cover other expenses, such as housing, child care, and books.

Current Status of State-based Free Tuition Programs

Because New Mexico already had a previous version of its Opportunity Scholarship in place before last month’s expansion, it is not a new entry among the 23 states with at least some version of a state-funded tuition program. All 23 programs can be used to cover tuition costs for 2 years at a community college, but 6 programs limit eligibility to associate degrees from “in-demand” or “high-demand” degree fields. New Mexico’s expanded Opportunity Scholarship has made it the fourth state to cover both two-year and four-year degrees.

State-Based Tuition Assistance Programs by Program Type[1]

Students’ ability to stack the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship with other financial aid creates new educational pathways for students with lower incomes. This provision makes it a “first-dollar” program, meaning that it covers tuition and fees upfront and allows students to use other aid sources to cover other expenses. First-dollar programs are more advantageous and flexible for students than “last-dollar” programs, which are less expensive for states and, therefore, more common. Last-dollar programs are often unavailable for students with lower incomes since they only provide funding where federal and state grants fall short in covering tuition and fees, leaving no extra funds for students to use for other expenses associated with higher education such as housing and child care.

First- and Last-Dollar Programs by State[2]

States and localities seeking to implement their own tuition assistance programs should strive for first-dollar programs. Providing less assistance through a last-dollar model can cause students to take on some debt that such programs are meant to avoid, which disproportionately affects students who have lower incomes—particularly first-generation students and students of color. Eliminating community college tuition through first-dollar programs also provides a lifeline for institutions recovering from pandemic-caused enrollment decreases, as tuition assistance is estimated to bring a 26 percent overall enrollment increase in higher education, and 86 percent of that increase for community colleges would be from students who otherwise would not be able to enroll.

Community colleges are a key avenue for postsecondary participation and credential attainment for Black and Latinx students. First-dollar programs would be a lifeline for the 82 percent of Black and 76 percent of Latinx students at public two-year institutions with unmet financial need when factoring in all expenses associated with higher education.

Tuition is a Regressive Barrier to Higher Education

In the face of federal inaction on tuition assistance, states have stepped up to counter the impacts of reduced funding of state-level education over the past several decades. This intervention is important, given that a 10 percent increase in institutional funding can lead to a 14.5 percent increase in degree and certificate completion at public 2-year colleges.  Tuition-assistance programs, which are part of a moral obligation to remedy the harmful cuts to state education funding, can serve in partnership with potential student loan forgiveness programs to reduce student costs and prevent new student loan debt. While necessary, tuition programs are not a complete solution to disparities in higher education. Potential students from communities historically denied higher educational opportunities still need access to knowledge about programs they are eligible for and encouragement from advisors, faculty, and other college officials to apply for these programs and pursue higher education. Though not the complete solution, the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship Act is a prime example for other states and localities on how to break down financial barriers for students of all backgrounds and economic status.


[1] Source: Data taken from NerdWallet analysis (with updated status for New Mexico): States With Free College Programs – NerdWallet

[2] Source: CLASP analysis of data compiled by NerdWallet (with updated status for New Mexico): States With Free College Programs – NerdWallet

By J Geiman

On January 20, the Biden Administration announced additional funding and resources to support students during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has created and exacerbated barriers to postsecondary success. This includes $198 million in grant funding through the Supplemental Support under American Rescue Plan (SSARP) program, with preference given to institutions with the greatest need including community colleges and other institutions serving a high percentage of students with lower incomes.

Alongside this funding announcement, the Department of Education released updated guidance for institutions on using Higher Education Emergency Relief (HEERF) funds to support student success and basic needs. The document includes many valuable recommendations as well as examples of successful programs colleges have created using previous HEERF disbursements. In addition to these recommendations from the U.S. Department of Education, this blog offers best practices schools should follow to meet student needs during the pandemic and beyond, as students of color, student parents, and students with lower incomes make up an increasing proportion of degree seekers.

1.     Avoid over-reliance on FAFSA information to target need-based support.

Department of Education guidance recommends colleges use information captured by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), including students’ expected family contribution (EFC), to target assistance to students with the greatest need. This includes using FAFSA information to communicate with students about federal benefits they may be eligible for, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 provides temporary student exemptions in SNAP to allow more students to be eligible for food benefits during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The FAFSA can be a useful tool to identify students at higher risk for economic insecurity. However, relying on EFC overlooks students whose financial reality has little to do with their parents’ reported income. This can include students who have moved out and become financially independent, but who are under the age of 24 and therefore required to report parental income. This can also include students who are disconnected from their families due to social or political reasons, like many LGBT students. Additionally, relying on FAFSA information overlooks students who are not eligible for federal financial aid, such as international students or those who have not made satisfactory academic progress (SAP) towards their degree.

Institutions may reach more students by committing to a targeted universalism approach. Under this model, a percentage of available financial assistance would go to all enrolled students who receive some form of financial aid regardless of their families’ calculated EFC. This would include students who may be ineligible for federal financial aid, but who receive institutional need-based aid from their university. At schools where international students do not receive institutional aid, the administration should work with the campus office of international services to identify international students with financial need, provide translation and interpretation services to assist in completing any required paperwork, and disburse funding and other forms of assistance.

Remaining funds would be distributed in proportion to students’ financial need. Schools can measure need via the EFC reported on the FAFSA, but can also use other approaches such as participation in university-run basic needs programs like campus food pantries, eligibility for federal public benefits such as SNAP or Medicaid; or self-attestation of financial need, which has been used successfully by student-run mutual aid groups. Should students receive financial assistance in excess of their actual need, institutions can set up an option to waive or return and redistribute these funds to other students.

Finally, institutions should communicate information about eligibility for federal benefits programs and other external basic needs support to all students, not only those with lower calculated EFCs. Using HEERF and SSARP funding to strengthen university-run case management services can help students with questions about the application process determine their eligibility and successfully complete benefits enrollment forms. Allowable costs can include specific training for existing staff members on navigating federal benefits programs, hiring additional staff for roles focused on basic needs support, creating communications and outreach materials, and creating paid positions for students to serve as peer mentors and support staff.

2.     Reduce administrative burden on students to access support.

Wherever possible, institutions should prioritize distributing assistance in a way that does not add an additional administrative burden on students. In order to distribute aid, many institutions have required students to complete an application for assistance; submit information about their personal finances, household information, transportation access, student parent status, or other identifiers; or complete forms verifying their acceptance of emergency assistance before receiving funds. These processes create additional barriers for students, particularly those who are already balancing multiple responsibilities in addition to their education, such as parenting or part- or full-time employment, or have less access to documentation because they are experiencing homelessness or are estranged from their families.

In providing direct assistance to students, such as through emergency financial aid grants, institutions should make payments automatic where possible, using information already provided by students through registration. For more specific forms of assistance, there may be a valid need to collect additional information from students not captured in the registration process. For example, an institution may want to provide specific support for student parents through subsidized on-campus childcare; however, many colleges do not collect good data on the number of students who are parents or caring for younger children. In these situations, colleges should make the process for submitting information and receiving assistance as streamlined as possible and invest in staff to help students complete requirements.

3.     Support existing mutual aid and basic needs infrastructure, including student-led initiatives.

Schools have a great deal of flexibility in spending institutional portions of HEERF funding, as well as SSARP funds. Under Section 2005 of the ARP, the primary requirements are that institutions use “some portion” of institutional funding to implement evidence-based practices for mitigating the spread of COVID-19; and to communicate with financial aid applicants about aid adjustments due to changes in students’ economic circumstances. Institutions otherwise have wide latitude to address COVID-related disruptions in a variety of ways, including subsidizing basic needs programs, providing additional grant payments to students, and hiring and paying support staff.

Many colleges have some existing infrastructure for supporting student basic needs through programs like physical and mental health centers, case management, and on-campus childcare—and have already used institutional HEERF funding to strengthen these programs. However, because demand for these services often outweighs institutions’ capacity, since before the pandemic, student- and community-led initiatives have filled gaps through mutual aid funds, food pantries, housing shares, and “free stores.” These support networks, which tend to be unaffiliated with universities and sometimes face backlash from administration, have lower barriers to access, strong word-of-mouth promotion, and are often most in tune with the real needs of other students.

In putting emergency federal funding to best use, schools should not only invest in official institutional basic needs infrastructure, but support and work in collaboration with these grassroots initiatives to meet both immediate and long-term student needs. At a bare minimum, this includes consulting with student leaders on best practices. Schools can also support student and community groups by providing physical meeting and storage space; creating paid student employment opportunities to staff campus assistance centers or coordinate basic needs networks; or providing grants to student groups organizing basic needs support.

March 21, 2022, Washington, D.C. – Today, the Board of Trustees of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) announced that it has chosen Indivar “Indi” Dutta-Gupta as its next executive director. He assumes leadership of the national anti-poverty and racial justice organization on June 1, 2022, succeeding Olivia Golden who has served as the executive director of CLASP since 2013.

“We are absolutely thrilled to announce that Indi will lead our 53-year-old national organization into the next phase of growth,” said LaVeeda M. Battle, Esq., a leading civil rights attorney, and chair of CLASP’s Board of Trustees. “After conducting a nationwide search and assessing a strong pool of candidates, the Board and staff were thoroughly impressed by Indi’s formidable talent and skills, as well as his clear passion for advancing economic and racial justice.”

Indi is currently co-executive director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality (GCPI). Indi joined the Center in 2014 as a senior fellow and director of the Project on Deep Poverty and later founded the Economic Security & Opportunity Initiative (ESOI) of GCPI in 2016. Under Indi’s leadership, the ESOI has grown in size and influence. In its first year, the organization had only two staff members. Five years later, the ESOI is flourishing with 18 staff members – and growing – and deep collective experience developing and advancing ideas that alleviate poverty and inequality, advance racial and gender equity, and expand economic inclusion for all in the United States.

Indi has held senior roles at or advised the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the National Academy of Social Insurance, Liberation in a Generation, the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, and Freedman Consulting. Earlier in his career, he worked at the Center for American Progress and D.C. Hunger Solutions. He has also served as a volunteer policy advisor for the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and President Biden.

“I’m honored and delighted to be joining CLASP – an organization with a half-century track record of marshaling lived experience, careful analysis, technical assistance, and strategic advocacy to advance racial and economic justice,” said Indi Dutta-Gupta. “Olivia Golden is leaving CLASP in an extraordinary position after years of steady growth that has expanded its impact and reach. I look forward to building upon CLASP’s longstanding work at the federal, state, and local level that has for decades improved policies, programs, and practices for many of the families and communities in this country that have been the most marginalized and excluded.”

“Indi’s dedication to fighting poverty and inequality have made a real difference in the lives of workers, particularly workers of color across America,” said Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “During his tenure, GCPI became a national leader in developing ideas to create modern, strengthened unemployment protections and reducing barriers to employment. I can’t wait to see Indi’s impact in his new role.”

In 2019, CLASP celebrated its 50th year as a national, nonpartisan nonprofit that focuses on economic and social justice advocacy. We work with federal, state, and local policymakers, advocates, and partners to advance policies that reduce poverty, improve the lives of people with low incomes, and create pathways to economic security for everyone. Our work is rooted in a belief that poverty in America is inextricably tied to systemic racism.

CLASP has been on the front lines of both fighting back against harmful administrative and legislative proposals, particularly during the Trump administration, and advancing a vision that is both practical and bold. In the past two years, CLASP has responded to the immediate economic devastation of the COVID pandemic, while also shaping and implementing a longer-term agenda. Through the whole period, CLASP has expanded its leadership of major, high-impact collaborations – such as the 500+ member Protecting Immigrant Family coalition – and deepened its close relationships with on-the-ground leaders and people with lived experience of poverty.

Under Olivia Golden’s leadership, CLASP grew from an organization of about 30 people and a $6 million budget to its current scale of about 50 staff and a $10 million annual budget. During her tenure as executive director, CLASP has addressed a broad range of issues, including adding a new policy team focused on issues facing immigrant families, in addition to expanded work on child care; economic security programs; education, labor, and worker justice; and youth and young adult policy.


The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) is a national, nonpartisan, anti-poverty organization advancing policy solutions for people with low incomes. Because poverty in America is inextricably tied to systemic racism, CLASP focuses its policy and advocacy efforts for economic and racial justice on addressing systemic racism as the primary cause of poverty for communities of color.

 Gift to Support Commitment to Racial, Social, and Economic Equity 

Washington, D.C., February 22, 2022 – The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) today announced a $10 million donation from philanthropist, MacKenzie Scott. The one-time unrestricted grant comes at a pivotal moment for CLASP’s anti-poverty and racial justice advocacy, as the pandemic, economic upheaval, and racial reckoning have shone a light on longstanding policy failures and created opportunities for fundamental change.  

“We, at CLASP, are honored by this important and timely donation. It comes at a time when our work is more critical and demanding than ever as we inform and create policies that are transformative for working families, children, youth and young people, people with low incomes, immigrants, and communities of color,” said Olivia Golden, executive director of CLASP. “We are deeply grateful to our partners and to the CLASP staff, Board, and alumni who have enabled us to reach this point – and who will continue to support our next steps. This charitable gift, along with the critical support we receive from all our donors, reflects the extraordinary importance of the anti-poverty and racial equity policy agenda that CLASP works to advance. It supports our vision and organizational capacity to respond with creativity and innovation to a shifting policy landscape.” 

CLASP celebrated its 50th anniversary of economic and social justice advocacy in 2019.  Golden has announced that she will leave her position this spring after leading the organization since 2013. The CLASP Board of Trustees is currently engaged in the search for a new executive director.  

“This is a moment of great transition and opportunity for CLASP. We thank MacKenzie Scott for this significant donation. It is a testament to Olivia’s leadership and the extraordinary passionate and effective advocacy by CLASP staff to advance real and lasting positive change on issues that affect people of color, immigrants, children, and families,” said LaVeeda M. Battle, Esq., Chair of the CLASP Board of Trustees. “It’s taken hard work and a courageous vision to continue to craft and advance a bold and transformational policy agenda during a pandemic. The reputation CLASP has built over more than five decades has positioned it well to continue its work as one of the nation’s premier organizations whose policy work seeks to advance social, economic, and racial justice.” 


The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) is a national, nonpartisan, anti-poverty organization advancing policy solutions for people with low incomes. Because poverty in America is inextricably tied to systemic racism, CLASP focuses its policy and advocacy efforts for economic and racial justice on addressing systemic racism as the primary cause of poverty for communities of color. 

By Nat Baldino

Policymakers have praised the trillion-dollar investments of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that passed in November, noting it will create a new generation of high-quality, high-paying jobs, and investments in American infrastructure. Those jobs will be important. But as the Senate considers what working families need in the Build Back Better (BBB) Act, many are left wondering what building back better really means for them. 

Black workers in particular have historically been denied opportunities and forced into high-risk, low-wage industries—especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. An investment in American jobs must address both present and historical harm. True investment must create high-quality jobs and a commitment to Black communities. As the scope of BBB is negotiated, here’s what Black workers should pay attention to.

1.    BBB creates jobs.

If passed, BBB is expected to create over 3.2 million jobs a year. Many will be through industry partnership grants in high-poverty areas. BBB also reinvests in the Civilian Conservation Corps to create green jobs to fight climate change. This will spawn over 300,000 jobs that prioritize workers who have been historically marginalized. 

Why these jobs matter for Black workers: Discrimination has pushed Black workers into low-paying, poor-quality jobs that have little opportunity for growth. Jobs funded by BBB will pay high wages, provide good benefits, and offer room for growth in massive new industries of the green economy. By assigning specific dollar amounts to initiatives aimed at hiring workers who have been underrepresented, Black workers can join the new wave of green jobs.

2.    BBB creates career pathways.

Don’t think you’re qualified for these types of jobs? BBB also creates career pathways for workers who have been historically marginalized to enter new fields. Many of these green jobs will be available through subsidized employment: government-funded initiatives to create jobs in new sectors through things like Job Corps, apprenticeships, and specific job opportunities for people who were formerly incarcerated. 

Why career pathways matter for Black workers:  Programs like these allow participants to be paid living wages while being trained. This means that rather than going into debt to get industry experience, you will be able to support yourself even while in training. Subsidized employment programs often support workers in finding full-time employment after the program ends through mentorship and industry connections.

3.    Build Back Better will strengthen current jobs.

BBB has specific funds to invest in in-home care. An investment in the field itself will mean higher wages and a better standard of living for in-home health care workers. Grocery store workers and essential agriculture workers will also see investments in their industries that will increase their wages. Some of the money going out to each state is set aside for improving wages across the board, raising the standards for the nation. BBB will also strengthen the jobs of child care providers and pre-K teachers by increasing pay to a living wage equal to K-12 teachers with similar credentials and experience. 

Why these jobs matter for Black workers: Over half of home health aides are women of color, the majority of whom are Black women. 15 percent of the early child care workforce is Black and paid below the federal poverty rate. Black women in particular have long been forced to do care work. Care workers have been perennially overworked and underpaid, especially as frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, continuing a trend that began during slavery

4.    Build Back Better will make caring for yourself and loved ones easier. 

If kept in the package, four weeks of paid leave could allow Black workers to take paid time off to care for themselves and their loved ones during times of illness. BBB also includes funding for pregnant women, young parents and families, sexual assault and domestic violence prevention and support services, and care for older individuals from marginalized backgrounds. In addition, BBB provides a child care guarantee that will provide access to affordable, high-quality child care for children and families. 

Why these investments matter for Black workers: Compared to white workers, Black workers are 83 percent more likely to be unable to take leave when needed. And, with the historically high cost of child care and discrimination trapping Black workers in low-paying jobs, more than one in four Black parents relied on family members to either help pay for child care or provide child care directly during the pandemic. Investment in paid leave and child care is essential to keeping Black workers in the workforce. 

5.    BBB invests in Black futures. 

BBB increases the maximum federal Pell Grant by $550 annually, making it easier for workers with low incomes to afford college. HBCUs will also see more funding, allowing these institutions to support more students with low incomes to attend college. In addition, BBB will provide funding for adult education through programs like English, math, digital skills, and GED programs, as well as community college-based short-term workforce training. 

Of course, investing in Black futures means investing in Black workers now. To do so, Congress needs to pass the strongest possible version of Build Back Better.