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CONGRESS

Rep. John Katko wants update from Treasury on Harriet Tubman $20 bill

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Tubman $20

Fake $20 bills with Harriet Tubman's face are passed around during a town hall meeting held Aug. 31, 2015, by the U.S. Treasury Department at the Wesleyan Chapel at the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls.

U.S. Rep. John Katko is asking Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen for an update on plans to make Harriet Tubman the new face of the $20 bill. 

In the letter, Katko, R-Camillus, wrote that honoring Tubman on the $20 bill is a "fitting tribute to her life and legacy" and noted that he was encouraged earlier this year when President Joe Biden's administration committed to placing the abolitionist and civil rights icon on paper currency. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in January that the Biden administration is "exploring ways to speed up that effort." 

"It's important that our notes ... reflect the history and diversity of our country, and Harriet Tubman's image gracing the new $20 note would certainly reflect that," Psaki said. 

Nearly six months have passed since Psaki's comments at a White House press briefing. In their letter to Yellen, Katko and U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty are asking for an updated timeline on the redesign of paper currency. 

"Specifically, we ask that the department provide an updated date for the reveal of the redesigned $20 note featuring Harriet Tubman, as well as a timeframe for the note's entry into circulation," the members of Congress wrote. "This information would provide an important reassurance to the many Americans who are invested in this historic effort." 

The idea for putting Tubman on the $20 bill was born out of an online survey. The Women on 20s campaign launched the unofficial poll to determine who should appear on a redesigned $20 bill. Tubman was the top vote-getter. 

After Tubman's win, Katko introduced legislation to put her image on paper money. The initial legislation didn't specify which bill. 

In April 2016, the Treasury Department under President Barack Obama announced that Tubman would replace President Andrew Jackson as the face of the $20 bill. But Obama's successor, President Donald Trump, and his administration wouldn't commit to placing Tubman on redesigned paper money. 

Katko met with Steven Mnuchin, Trump's Treasury secretary, in 2019. During that meeting, Mnuchin told Katko that the main priority was security features for the redesigned notes. Later that year, Mnuchin testified before a congressional committee that "no decision" had been made about whether to put Tubman's image on paper currency. 

Despite the apparent lack of support within the Trump administration, Katko continued to reintroduce legislation that would place Tubman on the $20 bill. 

In January, he joined with Beatty to introduce the Woman on the Twenty Act. The legislation would require the Treasury Department to release a preliminary design of the $20 bill featuring Tubman by Dec. 31, 2022. It would also prohibit the department from printing any $20 bills without Tubman's image after Dec. 31, 2024.

Katko has been a leading Tubman booster in Congress because his district includes Auburn, where the abolitionist spent the latter part of her life. Her property on South Street is now part of the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park. Her gravesite is in Auburn's Fort Hill Cemetery. 

"As someone who had a significant role on the Underground Railroad, and as a strong advocate for the women's suffrage movement, memorializing Harriet Tubman on the $20 note continues to be a fitting tribute to her life and legacy," Katko said. "It is my hope that we can take this important and overdue step to recognize her contributions." 

Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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Online producer and politics reporter

I have been The Citizen's online producer and politics reporter since December 2009. I'm the author of the Eye on NY blog and write the weekly Eye on NY column that appears every Sunday in the print edition of The Citizen and online at auburnpub.com.

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