As Prepared For Delivery:
Good afternoon, everybody. It’s great to see my friend Wally, who we stole from Treasury during the Obama Administration before you took him back. Thank you for your leadership, Mr. Deputy Secretary. And, thank you to the government, business, and civil rights leaders joining us. I’ve been giving mostly virtual speeches during the pandemic, so it’s nice to be here in person—especially in a place called the “Cash Room.”
Several weeks ago, the White House announced a series of reforms to advance equity in federal contracting. At the time, I tweeted that I knew “procurement reform” didn’t sound sexy, but that the steps we were taking would help level the playing field and narrow the racial wealth gap. Sexy or not, I’m glad to close out this forum with a few words about our whole-of-government approach to building a more equitable and inclusive economy.
To begin, let’s focus on the wealth gap and why it matters. It’s tempting, at a conference named for a Civil War-era financial institution, to imagine that this gap is primarily due to centuries-old policies.
As you know well, many of the policies that have kept people of color from accessing opportunity and building wealth were established within our parents’ lifetimes, and often persist to this day. Redlining by the Federal Housing Administration locked Black Americans out of homeownership. Discriminatory implementation of the GI Bill shut the doors of educational opportunity to Black veterans. The Fair Labor Standards Act excluded agricultural, domestic, and other service workers, occupations largely held by people of color. So-called “urban renewal” extracted wealth from Black neighborhoods. The list goes on.
So, when the typical white family now has nearly eight times the wealth of the typical Black family—that came about intentionally. Which means we must be equally intentional about unwinding these policies and ensuring that allAmericans share in our country’s prosperity.
That’s what President Biden has challenged us to do. As many of you know, on his very first day in office, the President signed a historic executive order to make racial equity the business of the entire federal government, from the Oval Office to the Post Office.
As the President’s Domestic Policy Advisor, I have the privilege of driving the development and implementation of the President’s domestic policy agenda on everything from health care to rural and urban policy, and that includes quarterbacking our effort to advance racial equity and economic opportunity.
And, just like our Treasury colleagues, we’ve been hard at work. We hit the ground running with the American Rescue Plan, which has already cut the poverty rate for Black children nearly in half.
Then, in June, the President announced in Tulsa, Oklahoma, several ambitious efforts to begin to narrow the racial wealth gap. With Black homeownership lower today than when the Fair Housing Act was passed over 50 years ago, the President directed us to aggressively combat discrimination in housing. That includes a task force I’m proud to co-chair with Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge, which will take steps to address inequities in home appraisals and help homeowners of color build wealth.
The President also directed us to leverage federal procurement for wealth creation, including by setting a goal of increasing the share of federal contracts going to small disadvantaged businesses by 50 percent by 2025. That could translate to another $100 billion going to minority-owned small businesses over the next five years.
Now, with the passage of the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we’re making generational investments in our physical infrastructure, and leveraging them to advance equity and opportunity.
Instead of highways bulldozing Black neighborhoods, we’re reconnecting communities and closing the digital divide. Instead of jobs going to a select few, we’re working to ensure that workers who’ve been left behind—women, people of color, people with criminal records, people with disabilities—can train for and secure the good-paying jobs this law will create.
And, the President’s Build Back Better legislation will make further transformational investments. For instance, Build Back Better would deliver billions for affordable housing, including a new down payment assistance program for first-generation homebuyers—who are disproportionately Black—to build wealth. It will also expand the capacity and resources of the Minority Business Development Agency and Small Business Administration, helping Black and brown entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
As you know, the last president of the Freedman’s Bank was Frederick Douglass—who you might say is being recognized more and more these days. As he put it, the bank intended to show freedmen “how to rise in the world.”
Standing here, I can’t help but think how true those words have been for my own family.
My great-grandfather, Walter Rice, was born enslaved in South Carolina. He fought for his freedom with the Union Army before becoming a teacher with the Freedmen’s Bureau, the sister operation of the Freedman’s Bank, and ultimately founding the Bordentown School—a school for formerly enslaved people known as the “Tuskegee of the North.”
Two generations later, my father served as an official in this very Department before becoming the second Black governor of the Federal Reserve.
Now, here I am, having served under the first Black president of the United States and now serving with the first Black woman Vice President of the United States.
That is the story of America at its best. Striving, improving—building back better—generation after generation.
But, we need all of you to do it. CEOs and small business owners. Community lenders. Philanthropists. Civil rights organizations. Local officials. Together, we can advance greater equity and help enable every American, no matter their race or their zip code, to rise and thrive in this great country.