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Janet Yellen and President Joe Biden recently met with the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at its legislative summit. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and President Biden talk the importance of Latino businesses to U.S. COVID recovery

The president and secretary took part in the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s legislative summit on March 30.

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On Tuesday, March 30, President Joe Biden and U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen acknowledged the toll that the pandemic has taken on Latino-owned businesses and workers and reassured them that economic help is on the way

“I know how hard its’ been the last two years. It isn’t easy to hang a closed sign on a dream or a family legacy that you poured your heart into building,” Biden said during the virtual U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s legislative summit. 

Both Biden and Yellen stated that the Latino community would be greatly helped through the first pandemic relief package passed under the administration, the American Rescue Plan

Biden highlighted some of the assistance that will be available, including a Small Business Opportunity Fund, emergency support for rehiring employees, grants for “mom-and-pop restaurants, food trucks and food stands,” and community navigators to connect small businesses with programs for people without bankers.

The president made it known that Latinos have historically been disadvantaged when it comes to securing resources and support for their businesses, but he remains very optimistic.

“We have a lot of work ahead, but together we are going to get our economy on track and hang an open sign on tens of thousands of Latino small businesses once again,” he said. 

In a long Twitter thread posted Tuesday evening, Secretary Yellen explained that she has been an economist for a long time and has been fixated on economic disparities among different populations, especially when it comes to race and ethnicity. 

Yellen took her first economics course in college around 1963. 

“I began studying the subject during the Civil Rights Movement,” she wrote, reflecting on her decision to focus on racial disparities. 

In all of the economic crises that this country has endured, including the oil crisis and stagflation in the 70s and the double-dip recession of the early 80s, Latino-Americans were disproportionately affected, Yellen wrote.

“Economic crises generally do this: they take pre-existing inequalities – and make them even more unequal. To me, it’s one of the most pernicious effects of a struggling economy, and it’s something the President and I wanted to prevent from happening again,” she wrote.

The most recent crisis, the global coronavirus pandemic, caused “immense pain” for Hispanic families. 

“If someone tried to design an economic crisis that would unduly target the Hispanic community, they’d probably come up with something that looks a lot like COVID-19,” Yellen said. 

Yellen went on to talk about the Paycheck Protection Program, which was meant to be an early lifeline, but because of design issues, the first rounds didn’t reach the businesses that needed help the most: very small Hispanic-owned businesses. 

“We’re addressing that now and tweaking how we implement the program,” Yellen said. 

Using history as a guide, Yellen expressed a lot of confidence that the country will be back at full employment by next year and that Hispanic-owned businesses will drive “a large portion of the recovery.” 

She also made a point to state that in the immediate years after the Great Recession, from 2007 to 2012, the number of Latino businesses grew by 3.3%, while non-Latino businesses actually declined by 3.6%. After 2012, Latino businesses increased at more than twice the national average. 

She then discussed the “frustrating irony” of the Latino community consistently outperforming others in the creation of new businesses, but also having less access to capital to create and grow them. 

Yellen noted that Latino Americans, especially women are overrepresented in the essential workforce, the people “who have kept our country afloat this past year.” 

Before the pandemic, Latinas made up 17% of the workforce, but since it began, they’ve accounted for 27% of women who were forced to leave it, which Yellen believes is attributed to the burden of childcare. 

Through the American Rescue Plan, Yellen explained that the process of unwinding this frustrating irony has already begun. In the Treasury Department, Yellen said that $12 billion will soon be injected into Community Development Financial Institutions and Minority Depository Institutions. 

“It’s more money than has flowed through these programs since their creation in the ‘90s, and I think it will make a meaningful difference in the ability Latino-owned firms to access capital,” she said. 

To conclude, Yellen encouraged Latino businesses owners to participate in virtual roundtables she’ll be hosting, urging them to share stories about “what it feels like to open shop and scale up in your communities."

“If we work together, then I am confident that when someone looks back at the economic data around the pandemic, they won’t simply conclude that Hispanic workers and businesses were the victims of the 2020 economy. They’ll see that they were builders of a better one in 2021 and beyond,” Yellen wrote. 

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