Vice President Harris’ speech at the Freedman Bank Forum | Techy Kings


Treasury Department
Washington DC

12:10 PM EDT

VICE PRESIDENT: Good evening. Good evening. Please sit down. Good evening.

And to our incredible Secretary, Janet Yellen, thank you for welcoming us, thank you for hosting us, and thank you for your partnership. I think all of you — many of you here have worked with our Secretary, with Janet Yellen for many years, and you know that she’s been a tremendous fighter for working Americans, and she’s been a tremendous partner. to me and the President as we work on issues to ensure that everyone in our country has the ability and capacity to realize their dreams and that access to capital will not be a barrier to that achievement.

So, thank you, Secretary Yellen. And everyone here — this is a room full of leaders — thank you all for joining us this evening.

So, I’ll start with some history, which I think a lot of people in this room are familiar with, but there are a lot of people who aren’t familiar with the history — Freedman’s Bank.

So, the Freedman’s Savings Bank was founded by the United States Congress in 1865. It was a bank unlike any our nation had ever known. Freedman’s Bank was established to serve black Americans who had just been freed from slavery, to help them build wealth and build a better future. At Freedman’s, to open a savings account, you only need five cents, which, as I calculated, is about a dollar today.

In the years following its founding, tens of thousands of Black families opened accounts at Freedman’s. They save to buy a farm, to build a house, to open a business. Even school students save their pocket money to be kept in this institution.

And then, nine years later, after the bank first opened its doors, because of the economic recession and because of the planned attack on the Reconstruction project, the Freedman’s Bank was forced to close. More than 60,000 people lost their savings.

Today, Freedman’s Bank is guided by a vision — a vision of an economy that works for all Americans and includes all Americans; a vision of a country where everyone has access to the financial resources they need to succeed, to thrive, and to determine their own future. Indeed, at the heart of the bank is the concept of self-determination.

More than a century and a half later, in communities across our country, that vision remains unrealized.

Consider: Today, Black entrepreneurs are three times more likely to report that they didn’t apply for a loan out of fear of being turned down by a bank — often, anecdotally, because they heard about the experience from friends and relatives.

Today, Black and Latino homeowners are turned down by traditional financial institutions at higher rates when applying for home loans. And this happens even if they have a similar credit profile to other applicants.

Today, many immigrant business owners, including some Asian American business owners, face language barriers that limit their ability to access capital and banking services.

And people living in rural areas, including many Native Americans, often lack access to traditional financial services of any kind.

So, President Biden and I know that for our country to succeed, these differences must be talked about, acknowledged and addressed.

One of the last actions — actions, as you heard Secretary Yellen mention, that I took as a United States senator was to work with Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Mark Warner and Senator Cory Booker and Chairman — Chairman, excuse me — Maxine Waters to invest $12 billion in community lenders, which, of course, are financial institutions that mostly do business in neglected and underserved communities.

Last month, I was pleased to announce that because of the hard work and work of many leaders in this room, our administration has distributed more than $8 billion of that investment to 162 community lenders across our country. That’s $8 billion on the ground in communities across our country right now. (Clapping hands.)

And I will share with you some examples. In North Dakota, Native American Bank loaned $10 million to help fund an opioid addiction treatment facility on Tribal land.

In Georgia, Carver Bank loaned more than half a million dollars to help a Black-owned company build affordable housing.

And in Mississippi, Hope Credit Union – of course, led by the great Bill Bynum – (laughter) – loaned $10 thousand to Black-owned and women-owned coffee companies to help them grow. And that’s just one example of the incredible work they do there.

Since taking that position, I will tell you, I have traveled our country and talked to small business owners who have received funding from community lenders. And I’ve seen what that means in terms of — in terms of acknowledging and recognizing, and then channeling their ambitions and aspirations and creativity, both in terms of their own abilities and capacities, but also because they’re in the best position to understand the needs and capabilities of their communities .

And I’ve seen how they use that capital to hire people from the community, to open new stores on main street, how they buy inventory from local businesses. Entire communities benefit in one way or another economically — not to mention psychically — from their presence.

And, at the same time, I have also seen how the great need for capital still remains in our country, meaning how much more work we have yet to do.

You know, I hope and know that everyone here gets a chance to travel to our country. And from my adventure, I will share with you: There are so many people in our country who have extraordinary dreams – driven by their ambitions, driven by their aspirations, driven by seeing what is possible and then going there – but too many still lack the resources and support to realize those dreams.

And what ends up happening is that these entrepreneurs cannot access capital to start a business. We are talking about families who are then unable to access the capital they need to buy a home; students who can’t access capital to get an education because they live in underserved communities and because, often, they also don’t have the benefit of intergenerational wealth.

We have to address this because, again, there’s a complete disconnect between their inability to develop and – and the fact that they’re very talented and want to do that.

So let’s address that disconnect — which we also refer to as the disparity, because we see that people in our country have different experiences. And that’s why we talk about equity, because we realize not everyone starts on the same footing. They don’t start in the same place, even though they have the same God-given capacity.

So, when we talk about the work we’re doing here together, it’s recognizing that and being guided by this principle of what we must do in the spirit and in the interest of equity. And to do this, one aspect of the success we’ve seen so far is the incredible benefits and power of public-private partnerships — the public and the private sector coming together.

And what we have done and must do more of is combine the expertise and experience of the private sector with the reach and scale that only government can provide. And together, that’s what we’ve done so far, that’s produced the success we’ve seen.

As Secretary Yellen mentioned, earlier this year, we launched the Economic Opportunity Coalition. The coalition consists of over 20 private sector organizations. It includes technology companies, philanthropists and some of the largest consumer banks and investment firms.

And together, these private sector leaders have committed tens of billions of dollars to promote and then provide capital to community lenders to support entrepreneurship and minority-owned businesses, and to expand access to financial services, and to create and protect affordable housing.

And today, this coalition has committed more than $1 billion to community banks serving minority and rural communities.

So all of our work so far — we still have a lot to do — all of our work so far, I believe, comes down to this: America is a nation driven by the ideals and aspirations of its people.

So let’s continue to fight to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to realize their dreams and determine their own future. Because when we do, we not only advance economic justice, we strengthen our economy as a whole, creating prosperity and opportunity for all.

Together, we here know that we have the ability and responsibility and duty, dare I say it, to realize the vision of Freedman’s Bank. And that is what we have gathered here to do.

So, thank you very much for your vision, for your commitment, and your work. Thank you. Thank you. (Clapping hands.)



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