Yellen Addresses Essence Festival Crowd, Discusses Economy

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Friday touted the Biden administration’s efforts to build a “fairer economy.”

“I strongly believe that our racial equity work is not just the morally right thing to do. It’s in the best economic interests of our entire country,” Yellen told a crowd gathered for the Global Black Economic Forum held at this year’s Essence Festival of Culture.

Yellen, the first treasury secretary to attend and speak at the festival, was warmly greeted by the mostly Black audience.

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“I appreciate all of you for being here today — and for taking time away from the music and other attractions. I know that hip-hop icons like Megan Thee Stallion are playing in the next few days and that I am just a warm-up act for them,” she said, drawing a round of laughter and applause.

Yellen said the enactment of the “American Rescue Plan to support families, keep businesses open and ensure that critical services could continue to function” amid the COVID-19 pandemic and expansion of the Child Tax Credit were moves that helped the economy recover.

The latter “program is credited for bringing over 700,000 Black children out of poverty in 2021,” Yellen said as the audience applauded. “And it cut overall child poverty almost in half that year to its lowest level on record.”

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Still, she said, there is still much work to do. Yellen said the administration is working with minority-owned banks and others that “have a track record of delivering capital to underserved communities” and working through states to “deliver financing to Black-owned businesses.”

She said the administration also has committed to increase the federal government’s contracts with minority-owned and small disadvantaged businesses.

“We are leveraging the power of the federal government, which is the single largest purchaser of goods and services in the world,” she said, noting Treasury awarded nearly $200 million in prime contracts to Black-owned businesses last year — a 60% increase from 2020.

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Earlier Friday, Yellen toured New Orleans-based solar energy company PosiGen and discussed how the Inflation Reduction Act is driving a manufacturing boom that is strengthening the economy, creating good-paying jobs and lowering costs for consumers.

By Chevel Johnson Rodrigue

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