Where should Black issues fall in President Biden’s State of the Union address?

EXCLUSIVE: Experts speak with theGrio on the state of Black America ahead of President Joe Biden's first SOTU remarks.

U.S. President Joe Biden
U.S. President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress as Vice President Kamala Harris (L) and Speaker of the House U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (R) look on in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol April 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Melina Mara-Pool/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden will deliver on Tuesday night his first State of the Union address since taking office as the United States’ commander-in-chief.

The president is said to have rehearsed his televised remarks this past weekend, which will be delivered during prime time while standing before Congress, members of the Biden cabinet, Supreme Court justices and special guests in the well of the House at the Capitol. 

The last time Biden delivered remarks inside the Capitol was when he addressed the joint session of Congress weeks after he took office last year. 

President Biden’s State of the Union speech, which is delivered every year for a sitting president, will be similar to the scores of speeches from previous presidents with a tone of optimism no matter the crises facing the nation. White House sources confirmed to theGrio that the message will focus on “unity” and “equity.”

Terry Edmonds, a former Black senior speechwriter for then-President Bill Clinton said if he was writing President Biden’s speech he would say, “the State of the Union is strong but we are facing many challenges, we are facing an unprecedented number of challenges that we are ready to meet.” 

Tuesday’s address comes in the midst of a crushing supply chain kink, higher gas prices, and, as it relates to Black America, failures on police reform and federal legislation on voting rights – as well as the ongoing disparities that continue to be felt from the pandemic. 

Foreign affairs will also be a part of President Biden’s address as the United States supports Ukraine in the midst of Russia’s invasion of the beleaguered country.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, speaks during United Nations Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters on February 25, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

Edmonds told theGrio that Biden’s State of the Union address “is going to be very difficult when we’re in a crisis situation,” as there is a “laundry list of his priorities for the next year” of items to address. The president has to exude and project “strength,” he said, at a time with so many negatives, including low polling numbers for the president’s job performance.

When it comes to the Black agenda and voting rights, Edmonds said, “He’s going to definitely have to say something about [voting rights] because if he doesn’t that will be a missed opportunity and anger a lot of people that have waited too long for action.” 

As for police reform, Edmonds added, “Black America — we’re still dealing with unequal treatment in the law enforcement and the economy and other sectors.”

One of those sectors happens to be the energy sector with soaring gas prices impacted by Russia’s brewing war on Ukraine. Ralph Cleveland, president and CEO of the American Association of Black In Energy, said he is concerned about these developments. He noted that spending for the most vulnerable has seen notable increases.

“Lowest-income Americans spent about 11% of their total expenditures on energy in 2021, up from 8% in 2020,” Cleveland told theGrio, adding, “Nearly one-third of all households are dealing with overdue utility bills, up 25% over 2019. Past-due utility balances are up twofold since 2019, totaling $27 billion.”

Moratoriums on utility disconnections and other assistance programs resulting from the pandemic have ended or will be soon. The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that President Biden signed into law in March will provide $5 billion for utility bill assistance – only a fraction of the estimated need. 

“Finding assistance can be onerous and complex…one large utility-reports only 30% of those eligible for assistance apply. The public and the private sector must do more to address these needs, in the short-term,” said Cleveland.

Housing activists march across town toward New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office, calling for an extension of pandemic-era eviction protections, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

At this moment there is increased security in and around Washington, D.C., particularly at the White House and Capitol Hill, leading up to and during the State of the Union address. 

“Law enforcement agencies across the National Capital Region are aware of plans for a series of truck convoys arriving in Washington, D.C. around the time of the State of the Union,” said the United States Capitol Police. 

“As with any demonstration, the USCP will facilitate lawful First Amendment activity. The USCP is closely coordinating with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including DC’s Metropolitan Police Department, the United States Park Police, the United States Secret Service and other allied agencies to include the DC National Guard.”

The Joint Center conducted an exclusive poll on what Black Americans want to see in the president’s annual speech. 

Dr. Lashonda Brenson, a senior researcher at the Joint Center, found that Black respondents gave well over majority support to both President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris when polled weeks before the State of the Union address. Both Biden and Harris received approval ratings on a number of issues at 70% or higher.  

U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris arrive to speak to a crowd at the Atlanta University Center Consortium, part of both Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University on January 11, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Megan Varner/Getty Images)

Dr. Brenson told theGrio, “We asked some questions as it relates to priorities for Black Americans in terms of what we want, what they want to see Biden address in the State of the Union. And a lot of those issues related to bread and butter issues, things like having access to good-paying jobs as well as affordable housing, reducing inflation and cost of living, as well as increasing the minimum wage. Those are key issues for Black Americans.”

The study also concluded that of the respondents who received the child tax credit, “over 60% use[d] the funds for groceries or paying bills. And so we do understand that the benefit significantly impacted Black households.”

The child tax credit was not extended as it did not pass in Congress due to Republican objections, as well as a member of their own party in moderate Democrat Joe Manchin

Separately, in the Joint Center study respondents expressed that it is the job of the federal government to help end racism. “We found that the vast majority of Black Americans do agree that it is the federal government’s responsibility to reduce racism and discrimination,” said Brenson. “But actually 51% currently disapprove of the job that the federal government is doing on that particular matter.”

Another issue on the table for Black Americans, unlike the rest of America, is the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Melissa Clarke, the co-founder of the Black Coalition Against COVID, told theGrio that after extensive research, “We know the pandemic has affected Black people disproportionately…It is crucial since Black people have had some of the highest rates of death from COVID during the pandemic.”

She added, “Since COVID is more deadly for men in general this has affected Black men especially. And for long COVID, women are disproportionately affected (over 70% of long COVID sufferers are women) so Black women are more often having the debilitating fatigue, shortness of breath and heart palpitations which may be keeping them from returning to work.”

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