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What Happened to the Plan to Put Harriet Tubman on the $20 Bill?

When a Harriet Tubman scholar found out in 2016 that the abolitionist she studied for decades was going to be the new face of the $20 bill, she cried.

“Here you have an African American woman, formerly enslaved who fought and struggled her whole life for freedom and equality.” Kate Larson said.

But Larson and others eager to withdraw Tubmans from the bank may have to wait longer than expected. Two years ago this week, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced redesigns for the $20, $10, and $5 bills that would honor civil rights and women’s rights icons: Tubman, Alice Paul, and Marian Anderson. Lew said the new note designs would debut by 2020, 100 years after women gained the right to vote.

But now the Trump administration is putting the plan on the backburner, according to the Treasury department.

A spokesperson for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing told The Daily Beast that the redesigns have not been finalized or approved for circulation. The next note set to be released is the $10 bill, and the redesign won’t enter circulation until 2026, according to a spokesperson.

Before Lew’s announcement, the Treasury Department’s Advanced Counterfeit Deterrence Steering Committee signaled that a new $10 bill would be rolled out first, followed by the $50 bill, and then the $20 bill. The release dates for all the new notes could be pushed back even further to fight counterfeiting, according to a spokesperson. That means the public may not see the Tubman $20 bill until years, even decades after the original 2020 design release date.

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin has the final say on the Tubman $20 note and other redesigns, according the spokesperson.

“Ultimately we will be looking at this issue, [but] it’s not something that I’m focused on at the moment,”  Mnuchin told CNN last year.

President Trump, a fan of Andrew Jackson, the current face of the $20, has not spoken on the redesign since his election, but in 2016 he said the decision was “pure political correctness” and recommended that Tubman’s portrait should go on the barely circulated $2 bill instead.

The original rollout in 2016 was met with fanfare and some frustration.

“For the first time in more than a century, the front of our currency will feature the portrait of a woman,” Secretary Lew said in a letter announcing the decision. Women’s rights organizations who rallied for a woman to go on paper money (two women have appeared on national coins, Sacagawea and Susan B. Anthony) applauded the decision they fought for but wondered why the recognition took so long.

The founders of Women on 20s, an organization that created a grassroots campaign and public poll to put a woman on the popular currency before the Treasury’s decision, told The Daily Beast that the redesign news was a “trifecta” moment. Susan Ades Stone and Barbara Ortiz Howard rallied for Tubman’s face on the $20, but they were not expecting additions to the notes of lesser value.