Congressional Black Caucus Stands Up for Voiceless and Vulnerable – and Wins
By Congresswoman Maxine Waters
The ten members of the Congressional Black Caucus who serve on the House Financial Services Committee – Reps. Mel Watt, Gregory Meeks (D-NY), William Lacy Clay (D-MO), David Scott (D-GA), Al Green (D-TX), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Andre Carson (D-IN) and I – took a stand to make sure the African American community receives the attention, assistance and resources needed for our economic recovery. We delivered a loud and clear message to Congressional leaders and White House officials that they cannot take us, or the people we represent, for granted.
We made our point and have achieved a significant victory, which we will build upon with continued efforts to put more people back to work and stimulate economic growth in our neighborhoods.
Last week as Congress was working on legislation to reform how big banks operate to make them more accountable and prevent failures that could cause another financial crisis, the CBC Financial Services Committee members united to hold up this legislation.
We did so not because we oppose the legislation; in fact, many of us helped write the bill and were able to put in important provisions to protect American consumers from being ripped off by banks, credit card companies and payday lenders. However, we used our power strategically to say that we cannot focus on fixing the problems on Wall Street while ignoring the hardship endured by families and businesses on Main Street.
This is not to suggest that nothing has been done to help: President Obama and Congress acted quickly to lessen the impact of this recession on the most vulnerable Americans. In February, the Congress passed a stimulus bill that cut taxes for middle class families, extended and increased unemployment insurance, and created and saved more than a million jobs.
Although the economy is showing some encouraging signs, high unemployment and foreclosures threaten to slow down the recovery. African Americans have been disproportionately affected by predatory lending (55 percent of loans made to African Americans in 2005 were subprime, compared to 17 percent for whites), and the unemployment rate of African Americans is currently 15.6 percent, 56 percent higher than the overall national rate. As a result, African American neighborhoods have experienced higher levels of foreclosures, which cause families to lose their homes and the home values of the entire area to drop.
The CBC members who serve on the Financial Services Committee acknowledge that we have not been forceful enough in protecting the most vulnerable of our population. Since last September, we have continuously voted for bailouts and reform for the very institutions that created the financial crisis, without properly protecting the African American community, or small business. At a widely covered press conference we declared, “That stops today.”
Places where economic suffering has occurred over years, even decades, and is now especially severe, require additional support and extra attention. In discussions with leaders of Congress and officials from the Obama Administration, we have pushed for a renewed, vigorous focus on the economic challenges many African-American families and businesses are facing.
We have already had success. As a result of our clout and willingness to block legislation if necessary, House leaders agreed to include some important proposals that we advocated in the financial regulatory reform legislation this week.
We secured $4 billion within the Wall Street reform package for homeowners and communities dealing with the foreclosure crisis, of which $3 billion will be made available so homeowners with reduced income as a result of unemployment, underemployment, or medical conditions can receive low-interest loans to help them stay in their homes. Homeowners must be at least 3 months behind on their mortgage payments, have received a foreclosure notice, and must have a reasonable prospect of being able to resume making full mortgage payments to qualify. They will be eligible to receive low-interest loans for up to 24 months, up to a total of $50,000, to make their mortgage payments.
An additional $1 billion will be directed to the Neighborhood Stabilization Program to provide grants to state and local governments to purchase foreclosed properties, fix them up and make them available for rent or purchase by low- and middle-income families. Created last year through legislation supported by the CBC, the Neighborhood Stabilization Program has been a success. However, because the program has received more applications than could be funded, the additional funding will be helpful.
The legislation also includes a provision the CBC members of the Financial Services Committee authored to establish an Office of Minority and Women Inclusion in many government agencies so qualified minority- and women-owned businesses can fully participate in government contracting opportunities.
Having recommitted ourselves to fighting for the voiceless and the vulnerable, we will continue to develop and advocate for solutions that serve all Americans.