U.S. President Donald Trump once again sparked a controversial debate, after he suggested that a funding program for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) in America may be unconstitutional.
In a statement released on Friday by the White House, Trump suggested that the Historically Black College and University Capital Financing Program Account – a $20 million fund set aside to enable traditionally “Black” schools to finance their construction projects – could be unconstitutionally allocating money on the basis of race and ethnicity:
My administration shall treat provisions that allocate benefits on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender in a manner consistent with the requirement to afford equal protection of the laws under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, part of the statement read.
The statement followed the signing into law of the recently passed Budget Appropriations bill that will allow the federal government to run until the end of the current fiscal year.
Sources close to Trump’s administration say the statement threw the enormous work done by the White House domestic policy staff on HBCU issues into disarray and blindsided the entire HBCU community.
However by Sunday, the White House released another statement, where President Trump refuted claims that he was planning to pull back funding for HBCUs.
Instead, he said his previous statement was misread and insisted that the controversial statement was meant to reiterate his intention to spend all funds allocated by his administration in a way that is consistent with his responsibilities under the Constitution.
“It does not affect my unwavering support for HBCUs and their critical educational missions,” BuzzFeed quoted Trump as saying.
HBCUs also issued a statement through Johnny Taylor, the president of the HBCU advocacy group the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, who said he had received assurances from the Trump administration that there was no plan to eliminate or challenge the funding of the program.
Taylor also rebutted claims that the program allocates money on the basis of race, insisting that HBCUs serve large numbers of White and Latino students.
Still, critics have been up in arms since Trump issued his initial statement, with some people describing him as careless and divisive.
The statement comes barely two months after President Trump met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus at the White House, where budget priorities and legislative initiatives that are seen as likely to hurt the African-American community were discussed.