Paper Money

Treasury puts Tubman $20 redesign back into plans

In one of the least surprising moments of the first days of the Biden administration, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in her Jan. 26 press briefing that Harriet Tubman will be on the $20 bill after all.

The disclosure was made in response to a reporter’s inquiry whether the Biden administration has a “view of the time line as to whether or not Tubman should be on the paper currency.”

The question was posed in light of the Trump administration’s aversion to the inclusion of the escaped slave, abolitionist and activist on the $20, as well as fighters for civil rights and women’s suffrage on the $5 and $10.

These themes were proposed by the Obama administration’s Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in April 2016, but were not acted upon by the Trump administration. Donald Trump called the prospective redesign “pure political correctness.”

The press secretary responded that she was there when the change was first announced and recalled the excitement it engendered. She also expressed surprise and disappointment at the intervening administration’s delay.

“The Treasury Department,” Psaki said, “is taking steps to resume efforts to put Harriet Tubman on the front of the new 20-dollar notes. It’s important that our notes — our money, if people don’t know what a note is — reflect the history and diversity of our country, and Harriet Tubman’s image gracing the new 20-dollar note would certainly reflect that. So we’re exploring ways to speed up that effort, but any specifics would, of course, come from the Department of Treasury.”

Janet Yellen, confirmed on Jan. 25 as the new Secretary of the Treasury, is the first woman to hold that position in the 232-year history of the department. It is said that she supported the redesign when she was the first woman chair of the Federal Reserve Board, from 2014 to 2018. She told CNN in 2016, “Throughout American history, women have made important contributions to the free and democratic society we enjoy today.”

No woman has appeared on a federal legal tender paper money since Martha Washington’s portrait was used on the $1 silver certificates of the Series of 1891.

The new note could be one of the first notes printed in the BEP’s new facility in Beltsville, Maryland, upon its opening, which is planned to occur in stages beginning in 2025.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in 2019 that the $10 and $50 notes would be redesigned first, and that a new $20 would have to wait until the end of this decade.

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