Black, Latino Businesses Pushing White House for Policy Agenda to Address Economic Disparities

A week before his inauguration, Joe Biden had a message for the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC).

At the meeting on January 14, held on Zoom, the group was explaining the need for the administration to create a task force to focus on minority and women-owned small businesses when Biden responded that limiting the transmission of the coronavirus was his top priority in his first 100 days, along with the COVID rescue package, getting the vaccine to millions of Americans, policies to fight climate change, and immigration.

The response from Black and Latino business groups is that they understand the daunting agenda facing the Biden administration, but small businesses are the lifeblood of the economy and there are things that can be done now to begin easing the pain of so many business owners.

Ramiro Cavazos, the president of the USHCC says he already sees a difference in the approach from the White House and a "previous administration that clearly had not prioritized supporting Latino business." The Hispanic chamber has already met with administration officials five times since Election Day and says it helps to have White House staff that look like the community his group represents. But as he told Biden last month, Cavazos believes rebuilding the economy starts with small businesses and communities of color.

"When there are leaks in D.C., don't bring in more mops, fix the plumbing," Cavazos said of his approach.

Ron Busby, president of the U.S. Black Chambers (USBC), agrees.

Busby, who is meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Friday via Zoom to share how the administration can help Black businesses, told Newsweek that Black voters showed up for Biden during a year where they faced a trifecta of dire personal and societal woes.

Black people were disproportionately killed by COVID, he said, yet showed up as essential workers which further endangered them, small business owners received no stimulus money or far less than they needed, and the death of George Floyd brought the sharp pain of the taking of Black life by police into public view. This is the climate in which 47 percent of Black small businesses could be in danger of closing if they don't receive funding in the next 90 days, he warned.

Among his asks on Friday, Busby plans to request the Biden administration bring back an Obama-era rule that delivered "prompt pay" to small businesses working on contracts for the federal government, an issue that Cavazos echoed was important. He also wants to see stimulus funds that protect mom and pop employers and not just employees because some small businesses have few employees, as well as more transparency and accountability in federal government contracts.

"Black folks feel like we came out and invested our vote and confidence in this administration and we're looking for return on that investment," Busby said.

Black voters are often cast as a pillar of the Democratic Party coalition. Nearly nine in ten black voters (87 percent) supported Biden over Donald Trump, while two-thirds of Latino voters backed Biden in 2020, according to exit polls.

The White House confirmed the as-yet-unannounced meeting with the USBC and told Newsweek that its key focus is passing the COVID rescue plan and working with Black and Latino business groups, including the Black Economic Alliance and National Urban League, to amplify ways to bring small businesses economic relief. The Biden administration said it is prioritizing open communication with these groups, including more calls and round tables, with a focus on Black and Latino businesses, and will hold an event with Latino small business owners in the coming weeks.

Cristina Antelo, a lobbyist and founder of Ferox Strategies, who works with Black and Latino business leaders, agreed with Cavazos' ask of the Biden administration and said formalizing an official group to take the lead on aiding small businesses would begin to lay the groundwork for the types of solutions business owners need.

"I have high hopes for the Biden administration, but a minority and women-owned small business task force should be a priority because we are the backbone of the economy and help put people to work," she told Newsweek. "We don't want to wait on government to fix these problems, we're happy to fix them ourselves, but we need the government to remove some of the red tape to do it."

For the USHCC, the Biden administration has been responsive in ways both big and small. When Alejandro Mayorkas was confirmed to lead the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday, Cavazos received a call from White House deputy director of public engagement Adrian Saenz thanking his group for their advocacy in pushing for his confirmation.

But the USHCC president also sees his local chambers of commerce as an "economic oasis" in communities of color where one in three Latino businesses either went out of business or were hit hard by the pandemic. He said he would like to see the president have spending goals at the cabinet-level that show a commitment to awarding contracts to minority businesses to rebuild the economy.

Cavazos, who notes that 25 percent of Hispanics are Afro-Latino, said he wants to see Biden use his bully pulpit so that all of the positive momentum that came from the Black Lives Matter movement and communities rising up for systemic change is used for good.

"That includes economic justice, not just social or political justice," he said.

Despite the stacked Biden agenda, groups that advocate for small businesses and communities of color are hoping White House meetings and Zoom calls turn into concrete policy to help Black and Latino businesses.

"Sometimes when they say we're not a priority in the first 100 days, we hear 'You're not a priority in the first year,'" one minority business owner told Newsweek.

kamala black businesses
Kamala Harris, listens to a participant speak during a "Build Back Better" roundtable with Black Milwaukee business owners to discuss how a Biden-Harris administration would advance racial equity as part of the nation's economic recovery on September 7, 2020 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Kerem Yucel / AFP/Getty