Members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Monday criticized the lack of minority participation in the government’s financial bailouts and suggested that President Barack Obama isn’t doing much better than his predecessor to ensure diversity.
Giving Obama some leeway with only two months in office, the lawmakers voiced their concerns during an all-day summit on Capitol Hill that drew several hundred minority- and female-owned business leaders to hear guidance from federal officials such as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
Many said the officials were receptive to the idea of more diversity but short on details for how to make it happen.
“What I heard today from the administration seemed to be a continuation of the status quo,” Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., said at a news conference outside the event. “It is time that we wake up.”
Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., noted that no women were in the group of bank leaders who met with Obama last week and warned that the country could end up relying on the same people who created the need for a rescue if it doesn’t branch out.
Fattah and others said they were optimistic that the administration would focus more on diversity moving forward. But they noted that the money is being spent quickly and said minority accountants, banks, financial advisers and law firms will be left out almost entirely without immediate changes.
For example, the lawmakers said the government will begin hiring financial firms in early April to manage the latest program for buying up bad assets from troubled banks. Firms must have management portfolios worth at least $10 billion to apply, they said, making the program off-limits not just to minority-owned companies but also to other small businesses.
One suggestion the lawmakers said they would pursue is adding incentives for larger firms to partner with minority businesses.
“We are not going to sit by and allow billions of dollars to be dumped into this economy and have the same old players being advantaged by it,” said Rep. Maxine Water, D-Calif. “We are tired of being overlooked.”
When the initial $700 billion bank bailout was passed under the Bush administration, some black lawmakers initially wanted requirements for minority participation. But the provision was left out over concerns that it could slow down urgently needed assistance for troubled banks.