Harris, Yellen focus on community finance at Freedman Forum

Treasury Freedmans Forum

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen plan to use this year's Freedman's Bank Forum to highlight how federal coronavirus pandemic relief program funds have helped support Black- and minority-owned businesses.

The Treasury Department said in a statement that “the importance of expanding the community finance system will be front and center” at the Oct. 6 forum. In 2015, then-Treasury Secretary Jack Lew launched the annual Freedman’s conference to develop strategies to address persistent racial economic disparities.

Roughly 96% of Black-owned businesses are sole proprietorships and single-employee companies. These businesses have the hardest time finding funding and are often the first to suffer during economic downturns. They often turn to financial institutions for the underserved and other non-traditional lenders for micro-loans and grants.

Earlier this month, Treasury announced that it had disbursed roughly $8.28 billion in relief funds to 162 community financial institutions across the country through its Emergency Capital Investment Program.

The forum will include a panel on new support for community finance institutions, small businesses and low wealth communities, “all in an effort to unlock the economic potential of communities of color, rural areas, and others that have experienced limits on economic opportunity,” the department said.

A February Government Accountability Office report outlined how various agencies could improve efforts to increase banking access for people who don't have access to bank accounts.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the National Credit Union Administration and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency were all identified for improvements.

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