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Treasury Department to host annual Freedman’s Bank Forum to address racial inequality

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The U.S. Department of Treasury will host its third annual Freedman’s Bank Forum on Wednesday, Oct. 25, to highlight the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to address economic disparities for Black and brown communities, theGrio exclusively reports. 

The annual conference, which began in 2015 during the Obama administration under then-Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, is named after the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company.

Vice President Kamala Harris addresses attendees of the Freedman’s Bank Forum on Oct. 4, 2022 in the Cash Room at the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

It was established by Congress in 1865 to provide newly emancipated Black Americans after the Civil War with safe bank deposits to strengthen financial security and the opportunity to build family wealth. Frederick Douglass famously led the bank before it ultimately failed.

The Treasury Department tells theGrio the objective of the Freedman’s Bank Forum remains relevant today as Black, Latino, and other communities of color continue to be economically marginalized due to centuries of structural racism. 

“From day one, building a fairer economy has been the centerpiece of the Biden-Harris administration’s agenda,” said Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen in an exclusive statement provided to theGrio. 

“The third Freedman’s Bank Forum under this administration offers an opportunity to reflect on progress made to achieve the most equitable economic recovery in our nation’s history and continue to advance efforts to expand economic opportunity for Black Americans and communities of color across the United States.”

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen participates in an opening question-and-answer session during the Freedman’s Bank Forum in the Cash Room at the Treasury Department on Oct. 4, 2022 in Washington, D.C. According to the department, the forum is focused on “efforts to increase economic opportunity and growth for communities of color and address the persistent drivers of the racial wealth divide.” (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The forum, which will take place at the Treasury Department’s Cash Room, will bring together key leaders from the public, private, nonprofit, and philanthropic sectors to discuss policy solutions to closing the racial wealth gap. 

The conference will also underscore actions taken by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to tackle the persistent drivers of racial inequality in the United States. 

A Treasury Department official emphasized the U.S. economy’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, which wreaked havoc on U.S. households, particularly for Black Americans who had an unemployment rate of nearly 17 percent – which was above the national average. 

A snapshot of how Black Americans are fairing in Biden’s economy

“As jobless rates climbed, millions were put at risk of losing their homes to eviction. This risk was especially acute in Black communities, where Black renters have historically accounted for about one-third of eviction filings,” said the Treasury official.

Since then, the Black unemployment rate reached a historic low under the Biden-Harris administration – as well as the gap between the Black and white unemployment rates.

The pandemic also led to the shuttering of Black businesses, which were closing twice as fast as other businesses at its height. The Treasury Department highlighted that President Biden’s policies helped to increase wages for Black Americans, and its investments in Black businesses led to the number of Black business owners increasing by 10 percent between 2021 and 2022.

Woman turning an open sign on glass front door of coffee shop. Business owner hanging an open sign at a cafe. (Getty Images)

According to a Treasury official, the department invested $1.4 billion in Black-owned and Black-majority shareholder depository institutions through its Emergency Capital Investment Program. 

“Investments across ECIP are predicted to increase lending in Black communities by nearly $80 billion over the next decade,” said the official.

Additional actions the administration plans to highlight include investments like $65 billion to provide affordable, high-speed internet and $110 billion to repair roads and bridges, among others.

“​​Our collective efforts are ensuring Americans can live healthy and productive lives. And they’re shaping a new future for our children and generations to come,” said the Treasury official.

During and leading up to the Freedman’s Bank Forum, the Treasury Department said it would announce “additional initiatives to continue the progress we’ve made in building a more equitable, inclusive, and resilient economy.”

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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