How to Identify a “Disadvantaged Community” for Justice40 Program

Part 2: Taking a Deeper Dive into Justice40

In our first blog on the Justice40 Initiative, we defined what the initiative is and what programs are covered under Justice40. In this second part of the Justice40 series, we look at how a “disadvantaged community” is defined.

What is a Disadvantaged Community?

 Determining if a community is “disadvantaged” under the Justice40 initiative is generally based on a combination of variables that may include but are not limited to:

●       Low income, high and/or persistent poverty

●       High unemployment and underemployment

●       Racial and ethnic residential segregation, particularly where segregation stems from discrimination by government entities

●       Linguistic isolation

●       High housing cost burden and substandard housing

●       Distressed neighborhoods

●       Geographic areas within Tribal jurisdictions

●       High transportation cost burden and/or low transportation access

●       Disproportionate environmental stressor burden and high cumulative impacts

●       Limited water and sanitation access and affordability

●       Disproportionate impacts from climate change

●       High energy cost burden and low energy access

●       Jobs lost through the energy transition

●       Access to healthcare

However, as you consider these variables in choosing the disadvantaged community that will benefit from your proposed project, be sure to check statutory requirements of the Federal program to which you are applying or submitting a proposal, as that program may have other requirements for community eligibility, for example, the project may need to be in a rural area.

How to Identify a Specific Disadvantaged Community that Qualifies?

Federal agencies have developed tools to help identify disadvantaged communities, including tools aligned with their specific Federal mission. Several are described below.

In January 2021, President Joe Biden issued Executive Order 14008 directing Federal agencies to make achieving environmental justice part of their missions by developing programs, policies, and activities to address the disproportionately high and adverse human health, environmental, climate-related, and other cumulative impacts on disadvantaged communities that have been historically marginalized, overburdened by pollution, and underserved in housing, transportation, water and wastewater infrastructure, and health care.  To implement this new policy, the Administration launched the Justice40 initiative, setting a goal that 40 percent of the overall benefits of certain Federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities.

CEQ Tool

In connection with Justice40, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) developed a geospatial-based Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool which operates using interactive maps that identify disadvantaged communities. CEQ released a beta version of the tool and comments were received in late May 2022. The tool is a work in progress, and users should expect it to be updated.

The current version of the tool identifies disadvantaged communities using census tracts—the smallest geographic unit for which publicly-available and nationally-consistent datasets can be displayed on the tool. Identification is determined by a relatively complex formula based on eight indictors. A census tract will be identified as disadvantaged if the tract is above the threshold for one or more environmental or climate indicators AND the tract is above the threshold for socioeconomic indicators. For example:

Other indicators used deal with the level of diesel particulate matter exposure or traffic proximity and volume; proximity to hazardous waste facilities, Superfund sites, or facilities with a potential chemical accident management plan; wastewater discharge; prevalence of asthma, diabetes, heart disease or low life expectancy; and prevalence of low median income, linguistic isolation, unemployment, or poverty.

In most cases, the census tract must also be at or above the 65th percentile for low income and have 80 percent or more of individuals 15 or older not enrolled in higher education. The one exception is the indicator on low median income, linguistic isolation, unemployment, or poverty, which has the dimension of 10 percent or more of adults 25 or older having not attained a high school degree. The tool offers a guide on how each of these are measured and the data used. For a sample, see above for the tool’s display for the climate change indicator in a community identified as disadvantaged. The Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool can be accessed at:

Department of Energy Tool

The Department of Energy (DOE) has developed its own working definition of a disadvantaged community, based on data for 36 indicators collected at the census track level. These indicators are grouped across four categories:

To be considered a disadvantaged community by DOE, a census tract must rank in the 80th percentile of the cumulative sum of the 36 indicators and have at least 30 percent of households classified as low-income. Nationwide, 13,581 census tracts were identified as disadvantaged.

Notably, Tribal lands and U.S. territories, in their entirety, are considered disadvantaged.

Examples of these burden indicators include: no vehicle or a long commute, no health insurance, disability, unemployment, low income, incomplete plumbing, mobile or old home, non-grid connecting heating fuel, exposure to diesel particulate matter, proximity to traffic and volume, proximity to Superfund site, proximity to treatment storage and disposal facilities, renters, fossil energy employment, power outages and duration, climate hazards, and others. Each indicator present in the census tract receives equal weight. DOE’s tool is called the Disadvantaged Communities Reporter, and can be accessed at:

Department of Transportation Tool

Applicants to a Justice40-covered Department of Transportation (DOT) grant program may use the DOT tool to determine whether the location of their proposed project is in a disadvantaged community. The tool identifies historically disadvantaged communities based on six indicators:

Disadvantaged census tracts identified by the tool exceed the 50th percentile (75th for resilience) across at least four of these indicators. This tool can be accessed at:

DOE/DOT EV Charging Station Tool

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act included $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging infrastructure. DOE and DOT have developed an Electric Vehicle Charging Justice40 map, a tool to help EV charging planning efforts align with the Justice40 goal.

The map can display multiple data layers identifying disadvantaged communities, Federal Highway Administration designated EV corridors, public DC fast-charge stations (non-Tesla), and electrical substations. The tool can be accessed at:

When crafting your federal grant application, be sure to consult with the R36 Solutions team to ensure your application meets any required Justice40 Initiative requirements.  Our team can determine whether it applies, and if so, the best tool to make the case that your application meets the objectives of the initiative.

CEO & Principal at R36 Solutions

Former Commissioner, Federal Communications Commission and California Public Utilities Commission


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