San Francisco: How the $5 million reparations payment to each black resident was decided

The chairman of the African American Reparations Advisory Committee, Eric McDonnell, argued that the high figure came about as a result of a "journey" and that there was no "math formula."

In January, San Francisco's African American Reparations Advisory Committee argued that the city should provide $5 million in financial compensation to black residents under "reparations" for alleged decades of discrimination.

Recently, the committee's chairman, Eric McDonnell, explained to The Washington Post how the idea of paying the exorbitant figure to each black resident who meets a series of requirements originated. He commented that there was no "mathematical formula" and that it all came about as a result of a "journey" through the city's history:

There wasn't a math formula (...) It was a journey for the committee towards what could represent a significant enough investment in families to put them on this path to economic well-being, growth, and vitality that chattel slavery and all the policies that flowed from it destroyed. 

The committee argues that the proposed reparations program is not a monetary reward for the consequences of slavery, as it was never legal in San Francisco. However, they defend the idea that the city imposed decades of racist policies that economically harmed black residents. The payment would then be for:

Public policies explicitly created to subjugate blacks in San Francisco by upholding and expanding the intent and legacy of slavery.

HRC Reparations 2022 Report Final_0 by Verónica Silveri on Scribd

An unrealistic proposal

Some city officials say the proposal is unrealistic because of San Francisco's limited public funding budget this year. Hillary Ronen, a member of the city's Board of Supervisors, told The San Francisco Chronicle that even if not all of the city's 50,000 black residents qualified for the full $5 million, the expense would still be unsustainable:

I wish we had this kind of money in San Francisco's general fund, but if we want to maintain the services that exist today, we won't be able to do that.

Some members of the reparations advisory committee itself are also critical of the proposal. Amos Brown, who is part of the program's working groups, argued that the payment plan "distracts from the other recommendations" of the proposal:

You can't put a dollar tag on the horrible, hellish bad time our ancestors went through (...) We need programs that will address our health challenges, our educational needs, our economic needs and create spaces for us to connect as a community for our cultural needs.

San Francisco Republican Party Chairman John Dennis commented that the proposal is not a "serious effort" to establish an agreement on whether black residents should receive reparations. However, he said he was open to initiating a conversation.

Eligibility requirements

The report with the final proposal will be published in June, so the requirements of those who would qualify for the payment are not yet explicitly described. The following criteria are required in the drafts for the time being:

- Have identified as Black or African American on public documents for at least a decade.

- Be at least 18 years old.

- Born in San Francisco between 1940 and 1996.

- Have proof of San Francisco residency for at least 13 years.