Remarks by Vice President Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in a Moderated Conversation at the Freedman’s Bank Forum – The White House – DC Initiative on Racial Equity
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11:44 A.M. EST

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon — or good morning.  (Applause.)  Good morning, everyone.  Please have a seat.  Good morning.  Good morning, good morning.

It is my great pleasure to be here with Secretary Yellen and with all of you.  We’re looking forward to a robust and in-depth conversation.  And Secretary Yellen, I want to thank you for inviting me to share this after- — or this morning with you to have this very important discussion.

And to everyone — there are many leaders in this room; it’s a room full of leaders — I want to thank you for being here today and for joining us.

You know, earlier this year, I welcomed Mother Viola Fletcher and her younger brother Mr. Hughes Van Ellis to my Ceremonial Office at the Executive Office Building.

Mother Fletcher, as many of you know, is 107 years old.  And her younger brother, Mr. Van Ellis, is 100 years old.  And they both survived the Tulsa Race Massacre.

Mother Fletcher and Mr. Van Ellis were just children when a white supremacist mob burned down Black-owned homes and businesses, and decimated the Greenwood District.  But 100 years later, the memory of that tragedy — the smoke in the streets, the piles of bodies — was fresh in their minds, as was the memory of the thriving community that they lost.

By their account, by every account, the Greenwood District was a very special place and, I think we all know, was a very intentional place.  It was not the product of whim or fancy or circumstance; it was a design and intentional in that way.

And it was designed and intended to be a community — a thriving community within a community; an economy in which Black people supported one another, lift one another up, and modeled excellence, in which Black people could determine their own future.  Some of us refer to that as “self-determination” — to put equity firmly at the center of our economic policy.

So I talk about that today because I believe we must draw from the lessons of Greenwood and Freedman’s, of Sweet Auburn and Blaylock Van.  We must be intentional.

Here’s what I know to be true: America is a nation that is driven by the ambition and the aspirations of her people.  But I also know that, in America today, deep racial disparities continue to hold people back from achieving all they can.

Today, the wealth gap persists.  Today, the homeownership gap persists.  Today, access to capital is unequal.  As one example, Black entrepreneurs are three times more likely to report that a lack of access to capital negatively affects their profit margins.

I believe that the actions we are taking and must take to address these disparities will define our nation’s strength and economic strength in the 21st century.

Our economy is growing faster than it has in decades. Unemployment is down to 4.2 percent, and nearly 6 million jobs have been added since January.  As a nation, we cannot take this growth for granted, and we must make sure that everyone shares in this growth in order to sustain it.

In a moment, the Secretary and I are going to sit down here and we’re going to discuss some of the intentional actions that our administration is taking to lower costs for families and to remove barriers to success within all communities.

As but one example, we are increasing access to capital by supporting community lenders, also known as CDFIs and MDIs.  One of the last actions, in fact, that I took as a United States senator was to team up with Senator Mark Warner, Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Cory Booker, Senator Mike Crapo, Chairman Sherrod Brown, and Chairwoman Maxine Waters, who is here today.  Together, we secured $12 billion for community lenders as part of the COVID-19 relief bill.  (Applause.)

And this summer — and this summer, we released 1.25 billion of those dollars through our Rapid Response Program.  And we were very excited about that.  The Secretary and I did that together with so many of the leaders who are here.

And following up on that, today I am very proud to announce that almost $9 billion is now available to increase lending to small businesses in underserved communities.  (Applause.)

And I’ll say, “Yes, that’s a lot of money.”  I’m going to go off script for a minute.  (Laughter.)  Yes, that’s a lot of money.  That’s a lot of dough.  But what we also intend to do is to look to you — the leaders in the private sectors — to talk about how we can maximize the capacity of that infusion in a way that everyone is participating in the potential to exponentially grow that investment in our communities.

But needless to say, these $9 billion will dramatically increase the work of more than 175 community lenders across our nation.  This effort is close to my heart, and I know it’s close to many of us.  And it is certainly critical to our communities in every way, in terms of their potential, their capacity, and meeting their dreams with support and encouragement.

Throughout the year, I have consulted with the most active community lenders in our nation — those who serve rural communities in Oregon and urban communities in California, including my hometown of Oakland, California; those who serve low-income communities in the Mississippi Delta — Bill, I think you are here somewhere — pouring capital into communities that are starved of it, providing financial services to communities that lack those services entirely — communities like Itta Bena, a tow

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