Fresh off a legislative victory that will provide up to $6 billion dollars in funding targeted toward financial relief in black America, the Congressional Black Caucus kept the pressure on the White House and the rest of the Congress to create jobs for American minorities. “Our community is bleeding,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee during a Capitol Hill press conference. “The old adage [about when] someone has a cold—we’ve got H1N1.”
Later, the entire House Democratic caucus celebrated the passage of a financial services regulatory reform bill, which would strengthen protections for loan recipients and credit card customers as well as homebuyers and small businesses. The CBC was particularly jubilant. After a dramatic boycott of a key vote on the House Financial Services Committee, committee chair Barney Frank acceded to their request for more targeted funds. The new financial reform bill included an additional $4 billion for both low-interest loans and neighborhood renewal programs. The new Office of Minority Inclusion will ensure fair and informed access to financial services. Congress has already passed legislation expanding food stamp eligibility and unemployment benefits that will assist lower-income black families.
The funding battle was also the CBC’s first significant political victory in the 111th Congress. After months of various ineffective statements and condemnations of Congressional action on health care and the economy, “We are finally waking up to the fact that…we are not paying enough attention to the misery in our communities,” said Rep. Maxine Waters, who led the boycott. “That day is over.”
As debate on a specific jobs creation package gets underway next week, the 42-member CBC plans to maintain its strengthened negotiating position. Frank has already promised the caucus an addition $2 billion for public and affordable housing. Caucus chairs Barbara Lee and Emanuel Cleaver also sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to support their plan to focus at least ten percent of the total funding on “qualified areas of economic hardship”—where 20 percent or more of the population is at or below the poverty line.
Several members touted specific projects on the Hill—Reps. Danny Davis and Keith Ellison promoted small business development, proposing a “serious program of microlending,” said Davis, to allow individuals “to creatively develop businesses for themselves.” Rep. Jackson Lee proposed that individuals should be able to receive job training without jeopardizing their unemployment benefits. Rep. Bobby Rush, who represents Chicago, where youth violence appears to be on the rise, was particularly focused on those statistics. “On average 27 percent of our young people are unemployed. Idle young African American youth see a rise in their frustration and engage in antisocial behavior… jobs would start to solve some of these problems.”
Criticism has been leveled at the CBC for zeroing in on race in their efforts to create wealth for their constituents. Several members stressed that class, rather than race, plays a role. “Our concern is not based on the foundation of race, it is based on the foundation of need,” said Rep. David Scott. “We’re asking no more and no less than what Wall Street asked for. We’re asking for that same sense of urgency.” The members argue that black unemployment in some districts is more than twice the level of unemployment for whites, and that their economically-targeted proposals will also help poor whites and Latinos. No member represents a district that is more than 60 percent black.
With ten members on the financial services committee, the caucus is likely to flex the most muscle on issues related to TARP funds. But the largely anti-war CBC has grown particularly restless as a result of the mounting levels of unemployment and the outsized defense appropriations that Obama’s plans for Afghanistan will necessitate. Indeed, the jobs package up for debate will be attached to a Pentagon request for funding. The committee sit-out was back to basics for the many former activists in the CBC. Will the juice last?
Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.