Vice President Harris’ remarks to the Freedman’s Bank Forum

Treasury Department
washington d.c.

12:10 p.m. EDT

THE VICE-PRESIDENT: Good morning. Good afternoon. Sit down, please. Good afternoon.

And to our amazing secretary, Janet Yellen, thank you for hosting us, thank you for having us, and thank you for your partnership. I think all of you – many of you here have worked with our secretary, with Janet Yellen over the years, and you know she’s an amazing fighter for American workers, and she’s been an amazing partner for me and the President as we work on the issue of ensuring that all people in our country have the capacity and capacity to realize their dreams and that access to capital is not a barrier to those achievements.

So thank you, Secretary Yellen. And everyone here – it’s a room full of leaders – thank you all for joining us this afternoon.

So I’m going to start with a bit of history, which I think is familiar to a lot of people in this room, but there are a lot of people who don’t know the history of the — of Freedman’s Bank.

Thus, Freedman’s Savings Bank was founded by the United States Congress in 1865. It was a bank unlike any other our nation had known. Freedman’s Bank was established to serve black Americans newly freed from slavery, to help them create wealth and build a better future. At Freedman, to open a savings account, all it took was five cents, which I calculated is about a dollar today.

In the years since its founding, tens of thousands of black families have opened an account with Freedman’s. They saved to buy a farm, build a house, open a business. Even school children saved their pocket money to deposit in this institution.

And then, nine years later, after the bank opened its doors, because of an economic downturn and because of the organized assault on the reconstruction project, Freedman’s Bank was forced to close. More than 60,000 people lost their life savings.

Now Freedman’s Bank was guided by a vision – the vision of an economy that works for all Americans and includes all Americans; a vision of a nation in which all people have access to the financial resources they need to succeed, prosper and determine their own future. Truly, at the heart of this bank was 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 say they haven’t applied for a loan for fear of being turned down by a bank — often, anecdotally, because they’ve heard of this experience by friends and relatives.

Today, black and Latino homeowners are rejected by traditional financial institutions at a higher rate when applying for home loans. And this is the case even when they have similar credit profiles 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 who live 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 nation to succeed, these disparities must be addressed, 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 team up with Chief Chuck Schumer and Senator Mark Warner and Senator Cory Booker and the president – president, excuse me – Maxine Waters to invest $12 billion in community lenders, which, of course, are financial institutions that primarily do business in neglected and underserved communities.

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

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

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

And in Mississippi, Hope Credit Union – led, of course, by the great Bill Bynum – (laughs) – loaned $10,000 to a black, women-owned coffee business to help them grow. And that’s just one example of the incredible work they do there.

Since taking office, I will tell you that I have traveled across the country and spoken with small business owners who have received funding from community lenders. And I’ve seen what that means in terms of – in terms of acknowledgment and recognition and then fueling their ambition and their aspirations and their creativity, both in terms of their own abilities and abilities, but also because they are best placed to understand the needs and capacity of their communities.

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

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

You know, I hope and I know that everyone here will have the opportunity to travel to our country. And from my travels, I will share with you: There are so many people in our country who have incredible dreams – fueled by their ambition, fueled by their aspirations, fueled by seeing what is possible and then going for it. go – but far too many still lack the resources and support to make those dreams a reality.

And what ends up happening is that these entrepreneurs can’t access capital to start a business. We’re talking about families who then don’t have access to the capital they need to buy a house; students who cannot access capital to educate themselves because they live in an underserved community and often do not benefit from intergenerational wealth either.

We have to fix that because, again, there’s a complete disconnect between their inability to grow and – and the fact that they’re so talented and eager to do just that.

So let’s deal with this disconnect — which we also call disparities, because we see that people in our country have an experience that is not equal. And that’s why we talk about fairness, because we recognize that not everyone starts on the same basis. They don’t start in the same place, even though they have the same God-given ability.

So when we talk about the work we do here together, it means recognizing it and being guided by this principle of what we must do in the spirit and in the interest of fairness. And to do that, one of the aspects of the success we’ve seen so far is the benefit and the incredible power of public-private partnership – the public sector and the private sector coming together.

And what we have done and need to 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, resulting in the success we’ve had.

As Secretary Yellen mentioned, earlier this year we launched the Economic Opportunity Coalition. This coalition is made up of more than 20 private sector organizations. It includes tech companies, philanthropies, and some of the biggest 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, expand access to financial services, and 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 more to do – all of our work so far, I believe, comes down to this: America is a nation driven by ambition and aspiration for its people.

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

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

So, thank you all very much for your vision, your commitment and your work. Thanks. Thanks. (Applause.)

END 12:22 p.m. EDT

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