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Black Biz Owners Push for Equal Access to Trillions of Dollars in Upcoming Fed Spending

Some Black business owners are concerned that, as has often been the case with large government spending programs, they will be overlooked.

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Female Owner Of Start Up Coffee Shop Or Restaurant Turning Round Open Sign On Door

Black-owned businesses in California and around the country are closely watching as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi decides when she has enough support from the congressional Democratic caucus to call a vote on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan federal infrastructure spending bill.

Dubbed the “American Jobs Plan” by the Biden administration, the spending bill finances construction projects, airports, roads, bridges, education initiatives, and more. As a component of Biden’s broader “Build Back Better plan,” the legislation includes spending to combat climate change and support expanding the country’s social service and safety net programs for lower income families.

The infrastructure bill is expected to expand opportunities for small businesses, including minority-owned ones, who procure contracts to implement various parts plan, hopefully accelerating racial equity, minority business owners say.

Some Black business owners are concerned that, as has often been the case with large government spending programs, they will be overlooked.

“Here is an opportunity for Black businesses to profit from unprecedented taxpayer spending that will help build all of our communities across America. But we also know, from the past, that inclusion of Black-owned and other minority-owned businesses is not always automatic in situations like this,” said Gene Hale, president of the Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce.

“Even informing us that these opportunities exist – letting us know how we can grow and secure our businesses – is never a priority,” added Hale. “That has to change.”

Rep.  Barbara Lee (D-CA-37) said the infrastructure plan reflects the agenda that helped Democrats reclaim the White House.

“The needs in our communities, especially for Black and Brown people, are too great to be put on hold,” said Lee in a statement issued on Sept. 22. “This is an opportunity for Democrats to be unified in our goal of realizing the vision and promise of this nation.”

United States Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves said the financial investment by the federal government is “historic in nature” and should allow California Black businesses to utilize goods and services represented the plan’s vision.

“It’s making sure that Black-owned businesses have the opportunities, that for decades, missed out on,” Graves told California Black Media in a one-on-one interview by telephone. “We’re going to make certain that Black businesses have a seat at the table because the President has required that every agency have a plan for how Black businesses are going to be included in every single investment decision.”

The Senate passed the infrastructure bill on August 10 and a budget reconciliation bill that calls for an additional $3.5 trillion more in spending is being debated. Now the House of Representatives has to approve the legislation and forward it to Biden for his signature.

Pelosi (D-CA-12) has yet to set a date for a floor vote on the bill as a battle continues between liberal and moderate Democrats on the package’s price tag.

“Let’s be clear: for months, progressives have been open, honest, and transparent with House leadership and the administration about our focus on passing both bills,” Lee stated. “We all proudly support the President’s entire Build Back Better package, which is why, from the inception of these negotiations, my colleagues and I advocated for the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework alongside the reconciliation package.”

The Senate infrastructure bill includes an amendment that would allow the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) to become a permanent fixture of the federal government.

The amendment will expand the agency’s ability to open regional offices and rural business centers. The outreach facilities would be managed through historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs), according to the office of Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, who co-sponsored the measure with Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.

Minority business owners have historically been systematically excluded from securing often lucrative federal contracts for infrastructure work, such as building bridges and highways, Graves said.

According to a 2016 MBDA report, public contracting data indicated that disparities exist in contracting activity between minority and non-minority business enterprises.

Specifically, the report revealed that minority business enterprises (MBEs) typically secure a lower number and dollar amount of contracts in proportion to the number of MBEs that are available in the marketplace to bid on and perform contract work.

Graves told CBM as the federal government “deploys” infrastructure funding the old way of bidding on contracts will be eliminated.

“(MBDA) is the single agency across the federal government that is focused solely on supporting the growth and long-term success of minority businesses,” Graves said. “(MBDA) is working with every single federal agency to make sure that as we deploy these dollars, make these investments, minority businesses are right there at the table.”

Under the guidance of Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, Graves is tasked with administering increased job opportunities, establishing economic policies to shore up small businesses and train workers for in-demand jobs.

Graves, the 19th deputy Secretary of Commerce, is also African American and comes from a family of successful business people.

Graves’s four-times great grandparents operated a successful horse and buggy taxi business in Washington, D.C., that once stood at the site of the Department of Commerce’s headquarters. Their son went on to be a proprietor of a widely regarded hotel nearby and become one of our nation’s first Black patent-holders through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

In California, voters rejected the 2020 general election Proposition (Prop.) 16, a ballot measure that would have reinstated affirmative action in California. Over 56% of the state’s 11 million voters checked “no” on the measure.

What appears to be a barrier on the state level, at the federal level, Graves said “the door is open for all of us.” The federal government is asking states and localities to develop plans to make sure no minority business is dissuaded from participating in the plan.

“We want to see how they play to use these dollars effectively in an inclusive and equitable way to make certain that opportunities exist for every minority business out there (in California) that have capabilities,” Graves said. “We do want to make sure they don’t get discouraged or turned away.”

The infrastructure plan, Graves listed, would also eliminate lead pipes in drinking water systems, provide high-speed broadband, upgrade schools and federal buildings, replace buses and rail cars, and more.

“It’s also the single-largest public investment in history and the most important investment in ensuring that every American has access to reliable, affordable broadband,” he said.

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Business

Opinion: California Needs to Do More to Boost Employment for Black Americans

California must act now to confront today’s Black job crisis. The Bureau of Labor Statistics last year reported that 90% of the nation’s unemployed U.S. citizens are Black Americans. And despite being less than 10% of Los Angeles’ population, Black people comprise more than a third of its unhoused residents. Senate Bill (SB) 1340 renews hope in confronting this Black job crisis, as $180 billion in federal funds are coming to California to support the state’s green infrastructure projects over the next decade.

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Taylor Jackson, regional organizer, Southern California Black Worker Hub. Courtesy photo.
Taylor Jackson, regional organizer, Southern California Black Worker Hub. Courtesy photo.

By Taylor Jackson
Special to California Black Media Partners
 

California must act now to confront today’s Black job crisis.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics last year reported that 90% of the nation’s unemployed U.S. citizens are Black Americans. And despite being less than 10% of Los Angeles’ population, Black people comprise more than a third of its unhoused residents.

Senate Bill (SB) 1340 renews hope in confronting this Black job crisis, as $180 billion in federal funds are coming to California to support the state’s green infrastructure projects over the next decade.

The bill – authored by longtime worker rights and racial equity advocate Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas (D-Los Angeles) – would establish local “disadvantaged worker” demographics across California and require state-funded contractors to prioritize hiring these workers, who are primarily from underserved communities of color.

One Black construction worker who has benefited from an equitable hiring program is Patricia Allen. In 2014, Allen was an unemployed single mother living in the Crenshaw area who was hired to work on LA Metro’s Crenshaw/LAX rail line as part of their Project Labor Agreement (PLA) that prioritized the hiring of local disadvantaged individuals.

“It really felt good to see other faces like mine on the project,” said Allen, who now works as a safety supervisor for a construction company after earning her safety training certificate.

SB 1340 would also require state-funded contractors to regularly track and report disadvantaged workers hired on their projects to hold them accountable to meeting equitable hiring goals established by the state.

The Biden Administration has intended for states to utilize these federal grant dollars to boost equitable hiring programs and other community benefits. To remain competitive in securing future federal funding, California must demonstrate that it is successfully executing equitable hiring programs. Tracking and reporting are the most effective ways to ensure that California is keeping receipts on workers hired on development projects and ensuring that the communities they come from have benefited.

California awarded one of its first contracts from these federal dollars to a Texas-based company. Without SB 1340, Black community members are concerned about the implications: firms like this out-of-state contractor are not currently required to hire local workers from vulnerable communities, including Black men and women.

As critical as SB 1340 is in helping to solve the state’s Black job crisis, the bill has fallen on deaf ears in the Governor’s Office. SB 1340 is yet to be funded, despite being passed by the State Senate and Assembly Labor Committee as well as strongly recommended by a sizable coalition of statewide community partners. While Gov. Newsom makes promises to support legislation that aim to make a more equitable California, Black workers need him to act now on those promises. 

Although California is facing budget constraints, SB 1340 will be a low-cost bill to implement. It’s a small investment that will pay big dividends given that it will create jobs that would take thousands of people out of poverty, ultimately saving the state money with their tax-paying jobs reinvested back into the state.

Because of California’s long history of institutionalized racist policies, Black communities were excluded from building the state’s infrastructure during the 20th century. SB 1340 would give Black workers an opportunity to play an important role as California transitions into a new green economy.

“This bill is not just about building roads and bridges. It’s about building communities where all people can have environmental and economic justice,” said Dawn Modkins, director of the Southern California Black Worker Hub.

To voice your support for SB 1340, please call or email your state legislator’s office or call the Office of the Governor at (916) 445-2841.

About the Author 

Taylor Jackson is the regional organizer at the Southern California Black Worker Hub.

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Arts and Culture

Hundreds of Revelers Cheer Parade, Join Fun at Juneteenth Festival in Nicholl Park

A bright sun greeted one of Richmond’s most important community gatherings on June 22: the annual Juneteenth Parade and Festival. Hundreds of people greeted the lengthy parade that began at Kennedy High School, passed under the recently-created Juneteenth Freedom Underpass Mural on 37th Street, and continued on to Nicholl Park, where a colorful festival took place through the afternoon.

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A marching band followed the parade route from Kennedy High School to Nicholl Park. Photos by Mike Aldax and Mike Kinney.
A marching band followed the parade route from Kennedy High School to Nicholl Park. Photos by Mike Aldax and Mike Kinney.

By Mike Aldax, Mike Kinney and
Kathy Chouteau
The Richmond Standard

A bright sun greeted one of Richmond’s most important community gatherings on June 22: the annual Juneteenth Parade and Festival.

Hundreds of people greeted the lengthy parade that began at Kennedy High School, passed under the recently-created Juneteenth Freedom Underpass Mural on 37th Street, and continued on to Nicholl Park, where a colorful festival took place through the afternoon.

Michelle Milam, crime prevention manager for the City of Richmond and an organizer, said the parade boasted 70 entries and the festival had 117 booths staffed with community organizations, businesses, and resources. Soul food was being served by a number of popular local eateries such as CJ’s BBQ & Fish, Snapper Seafood and Cousins Maine Lobster.

The annual event is supported via a partnership between the N.B.A., City of Richmond and Chevron.

The Standard asked dozens of community members at this event what Juneteenth means to them.

“It is a celebration of freedom,” said AJ Jelani, president of the Belding Woods Neighborhood Council.

Jelani founded the nonprofit organization A.J./Sealcraft, which honors African American individuals, organizations, groups, and businesses who contributed to empowering fellow African Americans to improve their communities.

“Juneteenth is a recognition of our culture, our history,” he said. “Our unique past was a functionality of the community. It brought us together.”

Richmond resident Gloria Wilson added, “Juneteenth is a day to remember our ancestors’ struggles for our freedom.”

Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia told us the celebration is “about our community coming together.”

“It’s about recognizing the struggles that it has taken up until now, and that there is still work ahead to achieve true equity and equality,” Gioia said.

Gioia noted Richmond is unique for having had an annual Juneteenth parade and festival years before Juneteenth was recognized as a federal holiday in 2021.

“Richmond has had a great history of winning struggles,” Gioia said. “It is important for us to continue that work.”

“We all have the responsibility to uplift and celebrate how people persevered and continue to persevere in the face of challenge.”

Gioia said that is why the County has an Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice.

“I was just talking to the school board and superintendent about the work we’re doing, and the superintendent was talking about their equity plan for the school district, so it all comes together,” Gioia said. “Agencies working together.”

Richmond City Councilmember Doria Robinson, who helped carry the City Council banner in the parade alongside some of her Council colleagues, said Juneteenth is a celebration of perseverance.

“It’s the day where everyone…can reflect on what happened with slavery and can realize that we all carry that burden,” Robinson said, “and that we all have the responsibility to uplift and celebrate how people persevered, and continue to persevere in the face of challenge.”

Added Councilmember Cesar Zepeda, “Richmond has been at the forefront of making sure that our community is aware of Juneteenth. And just more recently, people are finding out about Juneteenth and celebrating it in their cities. Once again Richmond is at the forefront.”

Fast on the heels of Juneteenth, Richmond will get a jump on Independence Day by celebrating along the waterfront Wednesday, July 3.

The City of Richmond will celebrate the “3rd of July Fireworks & Celebration” July 3 from 5-10 p.m. at Marina Bay Park. The fireworks will start at 9:15 p.m., with the show lasting approximately 20 minutes. Along with the fireworks, festivities will include live music, a selection of food choices and an interactive Fun Zone for the kids. Marina Bay Park is located at Marina Bay & Regatta Blvd. in Richmond.

Also on Wednesday, July 3, “Fireworks at the Point at Riggers Loft Wine Company” will take place from 6-10 p.m. Andre Thierry, a.k.a. “the Zydeco king,” will entertain the crowd while they enjoy a choice of cuisine from five food tents prepared by Chef Frank Miller.

Games, wine, cider, and sodas will also be part of the mix. At 9:15 p.m., the venue—and its bayside patio—are perfectly poised to take in the City of Richmond’s fireworks show, for which beach chairs and blankets are suggested.

Tickets are $35 for adults, $15 for those under 21 and free for kids 5 and under. Purchase tickets here and find Riggers Loft at 1325 Canal Blvd. in Richmond.

For those heading to San Francisco on the Fourth of July, the city’s fireworks are set off via two locations in front of Fisherman’s Wharf: The end of Municipal Pier and barges in front of Pier 39. Transit options from Richmond to San Francisco include the San Francisco Bay Ferry, which will operate on a weekend schedule from Thursday, July 4, through Sunday, July 7—learn more https://sanfranciscobayferry.com/holiday-ferry-schedule

BART will run a Sunday schedule (8 a.m. until midnight) on Independence Day— go to https://www.bart.gov/guide/holidaysfor more information. And visit AC Transit for info on catching a bus.

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Antonio‌ ‌Ray‌ ‌Harvey‌

Funded by Big Tech? Calif. Lawmakers Debate the Future of Journalism

Last month, Sen. Steven Glazer (D-Orinda) vowed to bring back a journalism support bill he authored that had hit a snag in the legislative process. A few weeks later, the lawmaker lived up to his promise. On June 27, the California Senate moved to advance Senate Bill (SB) 1327 with a 27-7 vote under the Urgency Clause – special language contained in legislation that privileges it to take immediate effect after the governor signs it.

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Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, a former journalist and member of the California Legislative Black Caucus, supports SB 1327.
Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, a former journalist and member of the California Legislative Black Caucus, supports SB 1327.

By Antonio Ray Harvey, California Black Media

Last month, Sen. Steven Glazer (D-Orinda) vowed to bring back a journalism support bill he authored that had hit a snag in the legislative process.

A few weeks later, the lawmaker lived up to his promise.

On June 27,  the California Senate moved to advance Senate Bill (SB) 1327 with a 27-7 vote under the Urgency Clausespecial language contained in legislation that privileges it to take immediate effect after the governor signs it.

SB 1327 would impose a charge – called a “data extraction mitigation fee” in the bill — on major digital technology platforms such as Meta, Amazon, and Google to fund local news. Glazer pulled the bill from the floor in May when he discovered he didn’t have the minimum two-thirds votes for passage. Now, that he has generated enough support to move the bill forward, Glazer called his push to pass it a “rescue effort.”

SB 1327 is now on its way to the Assembly for review.

“We are in a moment of peril in our democracy, and our hollowed-out newsrooms are in the center of that crisis,” Glazer said during the opening of his presentation during a hearing for the bill on the Senate floor.

Glazer continued, “Ours is 248 years young. Seventy-one percent of the world’s population is under autocracies. Now, in countries such as Hungary, Argentina, and Turkey, we see these democracies teetering. You simply have to see their actions to curtail and take control of independent news media that was keeping these democracies honest.

SB 1327 has been getting pushback from digital tech giants and some publishers that are worried about losing advertising, the supposed threat of government influence, discrimination against larger publishers, and nonprofit newsrooms getting a slice of the mitigation fee.

Sen. Roger Niello (R-Roseville) voted against the bill. During the debate on the floor, Niello said it gives him “great pause to entertain a proposal” where over half the journalism industries today are “owned by hedge funds and individual investors,” he said.

The lawmaker who owns several high-end car dealerships added that the bill could bring “unintended consequences such as capital venture groups reaping the profits, should SB 1327 become law.

To qualify for the tax credit, news media outlets must initially circulate or distribute news content within the state of California and operate internet platforms.

SB 1327 proposes a 7.25% on gross receipts derived from data extraction transactions, according to the bill’s language.

Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas (D-Los Angeles) spoke the ways public opinion, politics and civic life have been influenced by misinformation and disinformation since the decline of the journalism industry. A member of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC), Smallwood-Cuevas is a former journalist.

“These are efforts to make a difference,” Smallwood said of SB 1327. “I must applaud the author for his work particularly because the alternative must also include building a representative workforce within the newspaper industry, which this bill takes into account– ensuring that those who look like California tell the story of California.”

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