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Editor's note: This story has been updated to include the newest mock-up of the Harriet Tubman currency from the advocacy group Women on 20s.
WASHINGTON – The Trump administration says it needs until 2028 to release a new $20 bill featuring abolitionist hero Harriet Tubman. Advocates and experts say they could do it much faster – if it were a priority.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin made remarks last Wednesday that the new design, initially scheduled for 2020, would take at least several more years, saying he needed to focus now on anti-counterfeiting steps and "security features."
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, a New Jersey Democrat and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls, slammed the delay as part of “basic pattern of bias and hate that this President and his lackeys are fond of, and it’s disgusting and disrespectful.”
An online petition urging Mnuchin not to delay the redesign had nearly 3,700 signatures by 1 p.m. Tuesday.
Here's the process behind redesigning currency, explained.
How does a bill get redesigned?
Whenever a bill is redesigned, it has to go through a complicated process involving four steps: design, order, production, and then issuance.
In 2016, then-Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that final concept designs would be released in 2020 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. New planned designs for the $10 and $5 bills would honor suffragettes, and a new $20 bill would honor Harriet Tubman, Lew wrote in an open letter at the time.
The bills were then scheduled to go into circulation over the next decade after the order and production phases were completed.
What is the timeline on currency redesigns?
Sometimes, the government moves very quickly. The John F. Kennedy half-dollar coin was issued in March 1964, mere months after his Nov. 22, 1963, assassination.
At the request of then-President Lyndon Johnson, Congress approved on Dec. 30 a bill replacing Benjamin Franklin with the likeness of JFK. The first coins were struck the following month, with about 70,000 issued two months after that. The 1964 silver coin would prove to be one of the most popular issues in history, initially hoarded by collectors and fans of the late president alike.
Other times, it takes much longer.
The 2013 version of the $100 bill features a blue security strip that took 15 years to develop, according to Wired. And even after the new bill was announced, in 2010, they did not enter circulation until three years later, in 2013.
What's the Trump administration saying?
Now, in 2019, the Treasury Department says it needs additional time to develop anti-counterfeiting measures for the new $20 bill, delaying the design phase for possibly several years.
“At this time, additional work needs to be done to develop more robust public security features for the $20,” Lydia Washington, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, said in an email to USA Today.
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According to the Bureau, the current focus for bill redesign is on the $10 and $50 bills, meaning the timeline for releasing a new $20 design would be pushed back.
“As the Secretary noted, the redesign timeline is driven by security – primarily the security feature development. Typically, the aesthetics are completed after the security features are ready,” Washington wrote.
Experts, advocates have a different take
There’s no doubt the Trump administration could have fast-tracked the Tubman redesign to make the 2020 deadline if it wanted to, said Charles Morgan, editor of Coinweek, a trade publication that focuses on coins, paper money, and ‘every other area of numismatic pursuit.”
“It doesn’t take four years or six years or eight years to get something done if the government wants to do it. They put a man on the moon faster than it would take to change the paper money. It’s not a priority for them, Morgan said. "Trump doesn’t want to be seen as the person who allowed Harriet Tubman to be put on a 20-dollar bill during his administration.”
Morgan said Coinweek, which has called for a modernization of all bills, also opposed Lew’s announcement in 2016, calling it a “pandering response” to the Women on 20’s movement, especially after they backed off the redesign of the $10 bill in the wake of the musical Hamilton’s popularity.
“It was just sloppy. And then leaving it to the next administration seemed like it was a public relations situation," he said.
"Why both can't be developed and designed quicker is a lack of will, not know how," said Barbara Ortiz Howard, the Founder of Women on 20s, the advocacy group that had pressured the Obama administration to put a woman on the $20 bill when it was redesigned.
Trump's critics see Mnuchin’s move as part of what they saw as Trump’s affinity toward Andrew Jackson and part of Trump's effort to attack "political correctness."
In 2016, Trump said that putting Tubman on the $20 would be “pure political correctness.”
Trump’s campaign and his presidency have been geared toward “eliminating overtures to political correctness,” said Marvin King, a political scientist at the University of Mississippi who teaches African American politics.
Who – and what – ends up on bills?
Portraits on bills are rarely changed. The last time a portrait on a bill was changed was in 1929, when Alexander Hamilton was placed on the front of the $10 bill, replacing Andrew Jackson. Jackson himself was elevated to the $20 bill in 1928, replacing Grover Cleveland.
Several other statesmen were featured on large-denomination bills, though all of these bills were all discontinued after 1969. The $500 bill had a picture of William McKinley, the $1,000 bill had Grover Cleveland, the $5,000 bill had James Madison, and the $10,000 bill had Salmon Chase. Woodrow Wilson graces the front of a $100,000 gold certificate, which is often conflated with legal tender.
The next major changes to bills took place in the 1990s, when the federal government rolled out anti-counterfeiting measures like watermarks, security threads, and microprinting.
By law, no living person can be on a bill, and the Secretary of the Treasury is given the ultimate authority over the design of bills, which includes the portrait. The only portrait he is legally required to print on a bill is George Washington, on the $1 bill.
No women or minorities have ever been pictured on a denomination of currency still in circulation, though $1 coins have previously been issued featuring Susan B. Anthony, a pioneer of the women's suffrage movement, and Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who assisted Lewis and Clark in their expedition across the Louisiana Territory.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Should the Harriet Tubman $20 bill be delayed? The currency process, explained