Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the U.S. Treasury Department building on Oct. 4. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the U.S. Treasury Department building on Oct. 4. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

Vice President Kamala Harris’ speech promoting the Biden-Harris administration’s program to support community banks and financial institutions has resonated with Black business leaders in the District. Harris spoke during the Freedman’s Bank Forum at the U.S. Treasury Department on Oct. 4. 

The Forum included a series of panels of government officials, nonprofit leaders and entrepreneurs who promote the viability of small and minority-owned businesses. 

The bank, founded in D.C. in 1865, would be guided by the mission to help Blacks become financially secure. But as Harris noted, it folded after nine years due to an economic downturn and “because of the organized assault on the project of Reconstruction.” She said 60,000 people lost their savings because of its closure.

Harris made her comments in light of a shaky economy with surging costs impacting consumers. While a Feb. 22 article on census.gov pointed to an 8% hike in Black-owned businesses from 2018 to 2019, Harris acknowledged that people of color still haven’t had the chance to economically prosper.

“Black entrepreneurs are three times more likely to report they did not apply for a loan for fear of being turned away by a bank—often, anecdotally, because they heard about that experience from friends and relatives,” Harris said.

Harris said to counter the discriminatory practices, she, as a U.S. senator, supported a $12 billion investment program in community lenders, financial institutions which mainly do business in minority communities. She said the administration has distributed more than $8 billion of that investment program.

The vice president also spoke about the value of public-private partnerships in promoting business equity.

“We must do more to combine the expertise and the experience of the private sector with the reach and the scale that only the government can provide,” she said.

Harris talked about the Economic Opportunity Coalition which consists of over 20 private sector organizations including tech companies, philanthropies and some of the largest consumer banks and investment firms. She said the coalition has committed more than $1 billion to community banks that serve minority communities.

Anwar Saleem, the executive director of H Street Main Street, Inc., said he’s encouraged by the vice president’s speech and its focus.

“The speech was right on point,” Saleem said. “It is a matter of equity. We need programs that are geared toward small businesses. Small business tends to pay taxes more often than corporations. Many corporations write off their taxes.”

Saleem said Biden’s plan may benefit the District because some vacant buildings could be occupied by entrepreneurs of color. The capital supported by the Biden administration could also benefit those who want to start businesses, Saleem said.

“You have a lot of creativity in Wards 7 and 8 but they don’t have the capital to build their dream businesses,” he said.

Al Swailes, owner of A & A Premium Paint Distributor in Northeast, had long advocated for D.C. government to allocate more contracts to Black businesses. He said the Biden Administration’s programs “are helpful” and community banks represent a good place for novice entrepreneurs to seek capital as opposed to more traditional lenders.

“Community banks will help Black businesses get off their feet quicker than a traditional bank,” he said. “With commercial lenders, you have to show them how you will pay back the loan. Plus, commercial lenders will determine whether they give you money based on your personal credit and not business credit. You often have to pay firms such as Dun & Bradstreet hundreds of dollars for your business credit and not many Black businesses can do that.”

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James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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