Black business leaders from Louisiana discuss COVID-19 relief needs with VP Harris & Treasury Secretary Yellen

Shaun H. Ruff

Janet Yellen et al. looking at a screen: Vice President Kamala Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen took questions from representatives of Black Chambers of Commerce as part of the discourse on President Biden's COVID-19 relief package.

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Vice President Kamala Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen took questions from representatives of Black Chambers of Commerce as part of the discourse on President Biden’s COVID-19 relief package.

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – Some members of Louisiana’s business community took part in a question-and-answer session with Vice President Kamala Harris and the new U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Friday. They represented African American business organizations who say the new COVID-19 federal relief package must better serve black-owned businesses.

Harris and Yellen took part in a Zoom conference with representatives of 140 Black Chambers of Commerce organizations around the U.S.

President Joe Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” contains billions for new grants to help small businesses and funding for financing programs.

“During the early days of the pandemic African Americans were the first to lose their small businesses, they were the first to lose their jobs and we’ve seen early data to suggest black workers to be the last rehired when the economy opens back up. That’s why the American Rescue Plan is badly needed to make sure this pandemic is not another generational setback for racial equality,” said Yellen.

Kelisha Garrett who represented the Louisiana Coalition of African American Chambers and the Louisiana Chamber of Commerce Foundation asked a question to Harris and Yellen.

“In addition to the $15 billion in grants and $35 billion in the state and local and tribal small business programs included in the plan, what are other ways that this new plan will provide supplementary support to existing small business initiatives like the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program?” said Garrett.

Harris replied first.

“One, we intend to support the SBA and for distribution of the support for the small businesses by having navigators, so that’s one of the things that did not exist before, right and having navigators who help our small businesses so as the secretary said they don’t have to fill out 50-page reports that don’t apply to their business model,” Harris stated.

Yellen said, “Taking many steps to try to ensure that the smallest businesses get access to these funds first and the ones that were left out in the first round get first preference now.”

The president of the U.S. Black Chambers, Ron Busby, said there are 2.6 million black-owned businesses but 2.5 million of them have no employees, so they could not take advantage of the federal Paycheck Protection Program that was rolled out earlier in the pandemic.

Harris said she and the president are working to make the program better.

“The PPP Program was not accessible to so many of our black-owned businesses and it had to do with a multitude of issues which included that those businesses were not necessarily engaged with the big banks, didn’t necessarily have the familiar or the consistent relationship, if not any relationship with a banker who could then call somebody up and say, Ms. Smith, this thing is coming down and this is how you apply for it.

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