ACLU Decries Latest Blow to Equal Opportunity Programs; HUD Rule Change Would Discard Key Hiring Protections

March 7, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today decried an obscure proposed policy change at the Department of Housing and Urban Development that would strip key equal opportunity protections from a $4 billion federal community development program.

“This proposed regulatory change is the latest example of the Administration’s disingenuous approach to diversity and equal opportunity,” said LaShawn Warren, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “The White House is constantly touting the value of diversity in society, yet this rule change would allow federal contractors to avoid fair employment obligations and implicitly permits discrimination based on gender, race, religion, ethnicity or national origin in hiring and contracting.”

Given the size and importance of the program, it is especially unsettling, the ACLU said, that HUD Secretary Mel Martinez was unaware of the rule change when asked about it by Sen. John Corzine (D-NJ) at a recent Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing.

The January 6 Federal Register included the proposed rule change, which would exempt government contractors who receive federal money under HUD’s “Community Development Block Grant” (CDBG) program from reporting and record-keeping requirements designed to ensure equal opportunity in the workplace. These requirements date back to a Johnson Administration executive order prohibiting discrimination in federal contracting and employment.

The new rule was buried in a series of other proposed policy changes designed to implement the President’s faith-based initiative but, the ACLU said, it actually far exceeds the scope of the White House’s faith-based mandate. Although the President’s faith-based program would allow religious groups to receive federal funds while discriminating in their hiring practices, the Community Development Block Grant change expands that ability to discriminate to all program beneficiaries, religious and non-religious alike.

“The proposed regulation is a landmark blow to HUD’s long-standing equal opportunity protections,” Warren said. “The protections that the agency proposes to remove have remained in place through five Republican and three Democratic administrations and have proven an effective tool for allowing women and minorities – groups historically discriminated against — equal access to employment and contracting opportunities.”

Established in 1975, CDBG is one of the largest federal grant programs in the nation. It is a critical resource for many state and local governments seeking to revitalize depressed urban areas, build affordable housing, assist small-business development in low-income neighborhoods and provide social services for the homeless.

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