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Wells Fargo Launches Banking Inclusion Initiative to Help Unbanked

African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans Get Access yo Low-Cost Banking

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  On Monday, Wells Fargo announced the Banking Inclusion Initiative, a 10-year commitment to help unbanked individuals gain access to affordable, mainstream, digitally-enabled transactional accounts – a meaningful entry point to fully participating in the economy and achieving financial stability.

    The initiative will focus on reaching unbanked communities and, in particular, helping remove barriers to financial inclusion for Black and African American, Hispanic, and Native American/Alaska Native families, which account for more than half of America’s 7 million unbanked households1. It also will assist those who are underbanked or underserved – individuals who may have a bank account yet continue to use high cost, non-bank services and have similar needs.

   Wells Fargo will bring together multiple national and community stakeholders to roll out the broad-based initiative that is designed to increase access to affordable products, digital banking and financial guidance within unbanked communities. Through this initiative, Wells Fargo also will collaborate with partners to explore solutions to the credit challenges facing unbanked individuals.

    This year, the bank will work with partners to set and begin measuring a 10-year goal for reducing the number of people who are unbanked, with milestones along the way.

    According to 2019 FDIC data1, 12.2 percent of Hispanic households, 13.8% of Black households, and 16.3% of American Indian/Alaska Native households in the U.S. don’t have access to a mainstream checking account – compared with 2.5% of white and 1.7% of Asian households.

    The FDIC also reports that while these figures have been trending downward, the number of unbanked households will likely increase in the aftermath of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

    “We recognize the high number of unbanked households is a complex and long-standing issue that will require gathering the best minds, ideas, products and educational resources from across our communities to bring about change,” said CEO Charlie Scharf. “Through our Initiative, we will organize our resources under one umbrella and work with a broad and diverse group of stakeholders on a sustained multi-year effort to accelerate financial inclusion in the U.S.”

    The commitment will be organized around three areas:

1. Access to Affordable Products and Digital Solutions

       Wells Fargo will deepen its existing relationships with Black-owned Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs) to support their work in the communities they serve, including outreach efforts and providing the option for their customers to withdraw cash from Wells Fargo’s ATMs and incur no Wells Fargo fees. In addition, Wells Fargo is offering access to a dedicated relationship team that will work with each MDI on financial, technological and product development strategies to help strengthen and grow their institutions.

·       In recognition that unbanked and underbanked individuals need access to short-term credit, Wells Fargo will increase funding and support to expand the Credit Builders Alliance (CBA) low-cost, credit-building consumer loan program. The organization’s CBA Fund will provide patient loan capital, capacity-building grants and technical assistance to their nonprofit lender members, enabling low-cost consumer loans for low- to moderate-income (LMI) individuals to meet short term cash needs and establish or improve their credit scores.

       Wells Fargo will increase awareness and outreach about low-cost, nooverdraft fee accounts, such as Wells Fargo’s Bank On-certified Clear Access Banking.

·       Wells Fargo will broaden its collaboration with CFE Fund and local Bank On coalitions to pilot new strategies and approaches that help overcome barriers to banking access in several markets with high concentrations of unbanked households. The program will focus on helping those who are unbanked navigate the financial system, develop an easier, more seamless path for them to open a Bank On-certified account and access services they need within mainstream banking. It will be used to identify best practices that can be applied on a national scale.

·       Wells Fargo will work closely with Fintechs that are deeply committed to helping underserved communities. For instance, Wells Fargo is among the investors in Greenwood, a digital platform for Black and Latino individuals and business owners. The bank also has started a collaboration to help the Fintech MoCaFi provide banking to unbanked individuals, starting with offering MoCaFi customers the ability to use their MoCaFi debit card at Wells Fargo ATMs without incurring fees from Wells Fargo.

2. Financial Education and Advice

·       

·       Wells Fargo is working with the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Community Development Action Coalition to launch Our Money Matters, a comprehensive financial wellness initiative for college students of color, who disproportionally face greater financial challenges and college debt. The initiative aims to equip students with much needed financial capability skills and access to support services. Over the next 3 years, the program will expand to 25 HBCUs and Minority Serving Institutions.

3. Launching National Advisory Task Force

·       Recognizing the difficulty of addressing the unbanked issue in the U.S., Wells Fargo will establish and lead a broad coalition to help with this multi-year commitment. Wells Fargo is forming a National Unbanked Advisory Task Force that will work with the bank in developing solutions to bring more people into the banking system from underserved communities, while also providing feedback on the initiatives that will be implemented and helping determine the best ways to measure success. The task force will feature representatives from leading organizations, including LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens), NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), National Bankers Association, NCAI (National Congress of American Indians), UnidosUS, National Urban League, and Mississippi-based Hope Enterprise Corporation.

“With branches in more communities than any other financial institution, we believe we have a responsibility to do even more to help address this issue and the pandemic has increased the urgency,” said Mary Mack, CEO of Consumer and Small Business Banking at Wells Fargo. “It is why we’re launching this comprehensive initiative. It is our hope, working closely with our partners, we will be able to make a difference over time in addressing such a critical problem for our society.”

    Edith Rocío Robles is an assistant vice president for Corporate Communications.

Business

Go Fund Geoffrey’s

Whether it was Paul Mooney, Faye Carroll, Sugar Pie or Jay-Z performing or whether it was Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Mayor Elihu Harris, or Kamala Harris along with many of the Bay area’s elected officials they too have come to bask in the limelight of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle.

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Geoffrey's Inner Circle

For more than 30 years Geoffrey Pete ‘s business, Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, has been a cultural hub because of its full-service restaurant, live entertainment, nightclub parties, jazz music and community special occasion events. Faith-based organizations have also rented the spacious facilities for services and concerts. Their full-service restaurant, bar and live entertainment business along with their tenants and multilevel event rental spaces have been severely interrupted and devastated by the COVID 19 lockdowns and restrictions.

Whether it was Paul Mooney, Faye Carroll, Sugar Pie or Jay-Z performing or whether it was Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Mayor Elihu Harris, or Kamala Harris along with many of the Bay area’s elected officials they too have come to bask in the limelight of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle. Now those lights are dimmed due to the economic conditions that have descended on high intensity people-contact businesses.

Thanks to a group of customers and supporters a Go Fund Me page has been opened for the public to contribute to support Geoffrey’s Inner Circle https://gofund.me/b2541419.

The Post newspaper has notified the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce that regular articles concerning the needs of Geoffrey’s and other Black-owned Businesses will be published weekly.

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Business

Some Upbeat News for Black Businesses Still Reeling From Pandemic Losses

During a news briefing hosted by Ethnic Media Services last month, speakers discussed how small businesses in California and around the country can emerge from this crisis, catch the wave of what seems to be a gathering economic boom, or continue to tread water to stay afloat. 

Happy black waitress with face mask and gloves holding open sign while reopening during coronavirus epidemic./Shutterstock

Next week, after more than a year, California is expected to lift the majority of its COVID-19 related restrictions and reopen its economy at almost-full capacity. 

But as the state prepares for a long-anticipated comeback, many Black business-owners say enterprises across the state that African Americans own face an uphill road to recovery. 

“It’s a state of disrepair. They need significant support,” said Tara Lynn Gray, director of the California Office of the Small Business Advocate.  

Black-owned business operators who are struggling will need all the financial support available to them, Gray told California Black Media (CBM) at a luncheon hosted by the California Black Chamber of Commerce in Sacramento.

(Black businesses) have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19,” Gray said. “Fortunately, the governor has stepped up and provided $2.5 billion dollars in relief funds to all small businesses with priority to the disadvantaged communities of color.”

In February 2020, there were 1 million Black-owned businesses in operation around the United States, according to a University of California at Santa Cruz report.

About six weeks later, after the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the number of Black business owners had dropped to 440,000, a 41%, reduction. Many of them had to shut down their businesses for good. 

During the same time, only 17% of white proprietors had to shut down their businesses, UC Santa Cruz research shows. Overall, nearly 4 million minority-owned U.S. firms, whose annual sales total close to $700 billion, shuttered because of COVID-19.

But despite the grim statistics, a number of small business advocates say there is financial help available both at the state and federal levels for most business-owners. 

During a news briefing hosted by Ethnic Media Services last month, speakers discussed how small businesses in California and around the country can emerge from this crisis, catch the wave of what seems to be a gathering economic boom, or continue to tread water to stay afloat. 

The main objective of the briefing was helping small businesses, particularly minority owned ones, connect to various sources of funding created to help them recover from the pandemic. 

The key is to apply for the money, said Everett Sands, CEO of Lendistry, a leading, Black-led Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) and Community Development Entity (CDE) that is also a small business and commercial real estate lender. 

“Let’s make an assumption. If you are allowed to open, and you can open, then therefore you should be able to receive some type of revenue,” Sands said. “What we’ve learned about the pandemic is that most opportunities are coming a second time. If you look at the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), it came a third time. But it is important for businesses to apply.”

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is a federal revenue replacement program designed to sustain small business jobs during the ongoing public health and economic crisis. May 31 was the last day for small business owners operating in low-income neighborhoods to apply for the third round of PPP loans.

In California, Lendistry helped thousands of small businesses secure loans and grants during the pandemic. Funded by the State of California through the California Office of the Small Business Advocate, Lendistry, was the state-contracted administrator of the program that administered six rounds of grant funding for non-profits and underserved businesses.

Sands was one of the guest speakers along with U.S. Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA-17), a member of the Congressional Small Business Caucus, and Virginia Ali. Ali owns the nationally renowned restaurant and Black-owned small business Ben’s Chili Bowl in Wash., D.C.

Sands said before the virus surfaced, minority businesses were already in a “financially precarious position” with strained resources. Small businesses had limited access to capital, he said, and they lacked the infrastructure to apply for loans or contracts and many of them couldn’t self-finance in the long term.

But on the cusp of the state and U.S. economies reopening, Sands says it is not too late for businesses to get their financial footing. 

“As a result of the American Rescue Plan, most states received roughly $1 billion to help these small businesses increase their revenues” he said.

Of California’s 4.1 million small businesses, 1.2 million (29%) are minority-owned.  ZIPPIA, an online career support company, calculated that 10,287 Black-owned businesses operate in California. According to the June 2020 report by ZIPPIA, titled the “Most Supportive States for Black Businesses,” California ranked No. 4 before the pandemic. Based on data compiled by the United States Census’ Annual Business Survey, California’s Black businesses employ roughly 81,530 people. 

Gray said restaurants, barbershops, nail salons, hair salons, hospitality, and personal grooming services have been “inexplicably hurt” due to social-distancing restrictions in the state.

Those businesses, owned by many African Americans, were not deemed as essential when a shelter-in-place order was mandated. Now those are the businesses that Newsom intends to help, Gray stated.

“Our governor had a tough choice to make,” Gray said. “You close things down to make sure people are safe. Public health is a serious issue. I applaud him for doing that. Yes, there are consequences to our small businesses. But in the end, look at us now. We have the lowest positivity rate in the nation. Also, it looks like our economy is coming back.”

A survey conducted by H&R Block found that out of 3,000 small businesses, 53% of Black business operators saw their revenues cut in half due to the pandemic as compared to 37% of White owners. 

Black-owned small businesses continue to experience disproportionate difficulties, with 35% of Black entrepreneurs reporting that business conditions are worsening. Many say they may not survive the next three months.

While the reopening of the economy signals progress, Sands is encouraging Black businesses to pay attention to Small Business Administration programs (SBA) that include loans, a restaurant relief fund and venture capital investments.

To apply for federal small business funding, Sands says, a company only has to show the sole business’ gross revenue. Applicants won’t be excluded if the proprietor has been a borrower on a defaulted student loan or has a criminal history.

“For amounts less than $150,000, most of the red tape or the bureaucratic process of a loan has been cleared away,” Sands said. 

Khanna said more funding is expected to be distributed through the Saving Our Street Act, which would allocate loans of up to $250,000 to businesses with fewer than 10 employees.

Distribution of the money will be based on the racial and gender diversity of the business owners, he said, and it should help the economy get stronger and financially stabilize the country.

“In this next quarter, we’re going to have a pretty good recovery,” he said. “Consumer spending is at 10% growth. I think small businesses are going to come back strong. The problem is a lot of businesses that have had to close may not be able to reopen. And that’s where we have to focus: assisting with debt forgiveness and capital for those businesses that would not survive.”

 

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Activism

California Awards Ceremony Celebrates the Best of Ethnic Journalism

“Ethnic media has quickly become an increasingly indispensable bridge for communicating with diverse populations within our state,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at the opening ceremony.

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AbsolutVision; Business Paper

Some 30 ethnic media journalists were honored for their coverage of the epic events of 2020 at a virtual California Ethnic Media Awards ceremony, which took place June 3.

Selected from 235 submissions from reporters working in print, digital, TV and radio (in eight languages), the winners were chosen by judges with language and cultural fluency who know the challenges of working in the sector.

“Ethnic media has quickly become an increasingly indispensable bridge for communicating with diverse populations within our state,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said at the opening ceremony.

“You have worked against enormous odds to make sure our communities were informed about historic news events of the year. You are key to sustaining an inclusive communications infrastructure that knits our communities together when so many forces, as you know well, threaten to drive us apart,” the governor added.

The multilingual awards were sponsored by Ethnic Media Services and California Black Media. Each winner received $1,000 in cash. Entries were submitted in nine categories:

  • The 2020 census,
  • The COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportionate impact on ethnic communities,
  • The economic crisis that exacerbated racial and economic fault lines in California, the rights of immigrants,
  • The movement for racial justice sparked by the murder of George Floyd, exceptional reporting on the impact of climate change, the 2020 elections, commentary that serves as a call to action for ethnic audiences, and community media innovation and resilience to survive the pandemic.

“Thank you to all the journalists, reporters, editors, photographers and publishers who work long hours without recognition every day. You are committed to telling stories and covering underreported stories that we would otherwise never hear,” said Regina Brown Wilson, Executive Director of California Black Media.

In their acceptance speeches, the awardees recognized the support of their editors, publishers and families, as well as the challenges of covering ethnic communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, racist policies, and hate crimes.

“Words can be deadly, or they can be life affirming. While the idle intellectual elite strive to cancel culture, we are tasked with removing the knee out of the throat of truth and reaffirming and defining journalism in our own image,” said Rose Davis of Indian Voices, awarded for her landmark essay: “The Census and the Fourth Estate,” which advocates for the participation of Native Americans in the census despite centuries of being excluded.

Danny Morrison, winner in the category of English language broadcast TV for his analysis of the Black Lives Matter movement in Bakersfield said that “as an African American man in central California, I’ve always known that we have a lot of work to do regarding the inequities within our ethnicity. That is the reason why my team and I went to prisons, schools, churches, youth groups and more to speak to the underserved and the forgotten because we understand the struggle that in most cases we have lived through.”

Jorge Macias, awarded for his digital coverage of climate change for Univision, recalled how in the last four years, “we all suffered from the denial of climate change, and even in moments of terror in California with these devastating fires, the former president (Donald) Trump said that science didn’t know. This prize means a lot because as human beings we have to battle with that absurd view denying climate change.”

Hosts for the evening were Odette Alcazaren-Keeley and Pilar Marrero, both distinguished veterans of the ethnic media industry. Some 20 elected officials, community leaders, scholars and writers paid tribute to the sector in videotaped remarks.

Sandip Roy, once a software engineer in Silicon Valley, now an award-winning author and journalist in India, said if it weren’t for ethnic media giving him a platform, he wouldn’t be a writer today.

After presenting awards to Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese reporters for stories on issues impacting Black and Latinx communities, Alcazaren-Keeley announced a special judge’s award for cross-cultural reporting.  The winner, Jeanne Ferris of News from Native California, documented how the destinies of two groups of people converged when Japanese Americans were incarcerated in World War II on reservation lands.

At the closing of the ceremony, Sandy Close, executive director of Ethnic Media Services, said the coming together of reporters from so many racial and ethnic groups to celebrate not just their own but each other’s work was the real takeaway for the night.  “Ethnic media are like fingers on a hand,” she said, quoting Chauncey Bailey, a veteran of Black media killed in 2007 for investigating wrongdoing in his own community. “When we work together, we’re a fist.”

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