Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to the crowd about small businesses at the Delta Center Stage in Greenville, Mississippi on Friday. Photo by Rory Doyle/UPI | License Photo
April 1 (UPI) -- Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday visited Mississippi where she stressed the importance of small businesses to the economy and touted White House efforts to spur economic development.
Harris' speech at the Delta Center Stage in Greenville came after she visited with community members who spoke to her about the role of community lenders in providing resources when starting businesses.
During her speech, Harris said that minorities are not always able to access capital and financial services "to start and grow a business or buy or renovate a home."
"Black entrepreneurs are three times more likely to report that they did not apply for credit for fear of being turned away by a bank," Harris said.
"Black and Latino homeowners are rejected at a higher rate when applying for home loans from traditional financial institutions, even when they have credit profiles similar to other applicants."
Harris added that business owners of Asian descent, particularly immigrants, often "face language barriers that limit their ability" to access such financial services.
"People who live in rural communities often lack access to traditional banking services of any kind. This includes many Native Americans and, here in the Mississippi Delta, many Black folks," Harris said.
She said that "traditional banks" have not been willing to help small businesses owned by minority groups and women or people from low-income communities.
"Community lenders, on the other hand, were created to see that vision and to support it. These lenders predominantly serve overlooked and underserved communities," Harris said.
"The people who run these institutions often live and work in those communities. They know the people to whom they are lending."
Harris said that more than 99% of businesses in rural areas of Mississippi are categorized as small businesses, while praising such companies for training and hiring local workers.
"Small-business owners are not only leaders in business, they are community leaders. They are civic leaders," Harris said. "They sponsor the local softball team. They mentor and hire young people from the community. They are role models."
During her speech, Harris again praised the administration of President Joe Biden's efforts to provide high-speed internet services across the country.
Last month, Harris toured a Louisiana library where she promoted the $14.2 billion Affordable Connectivity Program, created as part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law last year.
"The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invests $110 billion to repair our nation's roads and bridges, to help customers and employees better access small businesses. And the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invests $65 billion to ensure that every person in our nation has access to affordable high-speed Internet," Harris said on Friday.
"And we know that part of why that is important is, of course, the subject today: Small businesses need to reach their customers. They need to buy supplies, even run their cash register. And all of that will be helped by having access to high-speed Internet."
Harris said that the Biden administration is working with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Isabella Guzman, Administrator of the Small Business Administration, to "broaden the reach of community lenders."
"Earlier this week, I was proud to announce that our administration is extending, expanding, and improving the Community Advantage program so that more small businesses will be able to benefit," Harris said. "And our work does not stop there."
Harris added that the administration's budget plan released this week includes a proposed $5 billion in funding over 10 years for community lenders "to invest in construction and rehabilitation projects."
"That will increase the number of affordable homes available to rent and to buy," Harris said. "And it will help to lower the cost of living of families throughout our country."