WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — House Democrats are filing legislation to force the U.S. Department of Treasury to release designs for $20 bills featuring abolitionist Harriet Tubman by next year.
“Tell me what the reason could be after working on this for almost three years,” Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, demanded at a press conference Wednesday, the anniversary of the abolition of slavery. “Sounds like it’s discriminatory to me.”
In 2016, the Treasury Department announced Tubman would be the first woman and the first African-American to appear on U.S. currency. To mark the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote, the Obama administration set a 2020 deadline for the release of the design.
But last month, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin cast doubt on whether Tubman would make it onto the $20 at all and said the bills were on hold for at least another eight years in order implement anti-counterfeiting measures.
But Beatty and other Democrats say they won’t let the administration put it off.
“The fact that we still don’t have a woman on currency is an embarrassment,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif. said.
“The president has talked about sending people to Mars. If we can send people to Mars then we can get Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, took to Twitter, calling for an investigation into the delay.
Supporters want the Treasury Department to meet the 2020 timeline. Beatty sent the Treasury Department two letters, one last year and one Wednesday (PDF), urging it to do so.
A spokesperson from Bureau of Engraving and Printing within the Treasury Department told Nexstar that has been a lot of misinformation about the issue and disputed assertions that politics play a role.
The Bureau says security concerns alone are dictating the timeline and that, in fact, it never intended to release the updated $20 in 2020.
Len Olijar, the director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, provided this statement Wednesday:
“The Advanced Counterfeit Deterrence Steering Committee, which includes membership from the BEP, the US Secret Service and the Federal Reserve System, was chartered to make design and security recommendations to the Secretary of the Treasury. At this time, the ACD Committee and BEP remain focused on developing security features for the upcoming redesign.
“As technology has evolved, banknote production has vastly changed over the last three decades. The next family of notes require new, overt and covert security features for the public, the banknote equipment manufacturers, and the central bank, to keep our currency safe and secure. Security features also need to work in mass production. A design can change during testing. The overwhelming success of the redesigned $100 in thwarting counterfeiting, is greatly due to the effectiveness of the blue security thread which is a public feature (and which a design was integrated around afterwards). That development alone of that security feature took approximately 10 years to finalize.
“Moreover, BEP was never going to unveil a note design in 2020. To keep our currency safe and secure, it is unwise to give counterfeiters a look at a potential future note far in advance of a note going into circulation. Additionally, if the concept of a note that was made public by the government were to change during that lengthy amount of time, it would create confusion in the global marketplace, further aiding counterfeiters.
“No Bureau or Department official has ‘scrapped’ anything; it is too early to develop an integrated concept or design until security features are finalized. The aesthetics or look of the note has always come after and been driven by the security features. Everything remains on the table.
“The illustration published by the New York Times was a copy of an old Series note with the signatures of former officials, with a different image super-imposed on it. It is not a new $20 note, as incorrectly stated by the New York Times, in any way, shape or form. The facsimile contained no security features or offset printing included on currency notes. There is nothing about that illustration that even begins to meet technical requirements for the next family of notes.”