St. Paul, Minn.— The Senate Equity Subcommittee co-chaired by Sen. Jeff Hayden (DFL-Minneapolis) and Sen. Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-Minneapolis) convened its first hearing today on the anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 which provided for equal housing opportunities regardless of race, creed, or national origin.
The recently appointed committee of 9 DFL Senators and 6 Republicans hit the ground running, hearing 19 bills. Bills ranged from community-specific business grants and incubator services, workforce development programs, to youth and community resilience programs. Testifiers were passionate, many speaking of the importance of community-supported, community-specific programs to address unique needs and challenges. Several of the bills heard today would provide outreach and services outside of the urban core, to people of color and low income individuals in suburban and Greater Minnesota.
The Equity Subcommittee was appointed by Senate Democrats to review and develop recommendations for addressing Minnesota’s significant and growing racial and economic disparities. The Subcommittee and other Finance Committee Divisions will receive a budget target later this week and release its recommendations publicly in the coming weeks.
Five bills chief authored by co-chair Champion were presented to the committee today. His bills support Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA) revolving loans, provide funding to Hennepin County for programs designed to support education and training for several populations including East African youth and participants in the Sentenced to Serve program, funding for Twin Cities R!SE for Metro Transit technician training, creates a pilot program with the city of Minneapolis and the Unity Opportunity Collaborative (Minneapolis Urban League, EMERGE, Sabathani Community Center, Stairstep Foundation and Minneapolis Public Schools Adult Basic Education), funding for a Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON) business incubator, and funding for North@Work for strategic intervention.
“The economic disparities that have manifested among communities of color in Minnesota are extremely detrimental, and serious action must be taken to end the inequality,” said Sen. Champion. “Progress is key, and today’s committee meeting is a step toward the socioeconomic advancement of our wonderfully diverse communities. We need to equip people with the skills they need to succeed in business and our workforce – and the many economic development bills proposed today aim to do just that.”
Co-chair Hayden presented three bills to the committee which would provide additional funding to the five existing Neighborhood Development Center (NDC) small business incubators and create two additional incubators, fund North Central Minority Supplier Development Council to increase minority-owned businesses receiving state and private business contracts, and provide YWCA Minneapolis funding to support career counselling and job placement assistance for individuals interested in early childhood education.
“I’m proud and honored to co-chair this committee on behalf of our caucus and Minnesotans. My community is one of the most-significantly impacted by disparities, but as we heard today, it is certainly not the only community that needs our support. I am heartened by the innovative and promising programs we heard about today. Minnesotans of color will succeed when given an equitable opportunity to do so and growing our economy depends on all Minnesotans working to their full potential. I look forward to working with my co-chair and committee members as we continue to review proposals and develop our recommendations to the full Finance Committee in the coming days,” Hayden said.
Sen. Kari Dziedzic (DFL-Minneapolis) highlighted in her remarks to the committee that her district includes the largest Somali community in the U.S. Two bills chief authored by Dziedzic were heard by the committee. Her bills would fund a Youth-at-Work program available across the state to provide employment opportunities to economically disadvantaged youth age 14-24, and fund programs through the Department of Public Safety to do outreach to Somali youth, and fund community liaison officers to improve community policing initiatives.
“The work of the Equity Budget Division is so important to the economic and educational success of our entire state. In particular, we have a huge opportunity to make a real impact on youth in minority and immigrant communities. Through programs approved by this division, we will make real progress on improving youth employment, educational opportunities, and resilience as they navigate the challenges of growing up,” Dziedzic said.
Committee member Sen. Chris Eaton (DFL-Brooklyn Center) had a bill heard by the committee today which would provide micro-loans and technical assistance to small businesses own by women of color. In her testimony Eaton highlighted that lack of access to capital is a challenge for both new and expanding businesses, especially those owned by women of color.
“Today’s meeting was a step forward in addressing the disparities that communities of color face in Minnesota,” said Eaton. “The committee heard a bill I authored that provides assistance through a revolving loan program for the startup and expansion of small businesses owned by women of color. We know that when small businesses thrive, communities thrive – and I’m hopeful this legislation will help many small business owners across the state.”
Three bills chief authored by Sen. Foung Hawj (DFL-St. Paul) were heard by the committee. Hawj’s bills seek to provide grants to CLUES which serves the Latino community through culturally-tailored skills training, provide funds to the Asian Economic Development Association, and support NDC’s small business incubator program by providing expanded services to immigrants in suburban communities and increase outreach and training in Greater Minnesota.
“Reversing the socioeconomic disparities Minnesota’s communities of color have faced for far too long is a major priority – and rightfully so,” said Hawj. “I presented three bills before the committee today that promote economic development through neighborhood outreach, and I’m hopeful this legislation will help everyone reach their full potential.”
Sen. Vicki Jensen (DFL-Owatonna), sits on the Equity Subcommittee and represents a district which has seen a great deal of racial diversification in the past few years.
“Until we start facing the challenges that people facing disparities are living with, we will never create solutions that work. I look forward to the conversations on the sub-committee and will work hard to develop legislation that strengthens our communities for everyone across the state,” Jensen said.
President of the Senate Sen. Sandy Pappas (DFL-St. Paul) had two bills heard by the committee today which support YWCA St. Paul career pathways and training opportunities, and provide funds for job training through the Hmong American Partnership.
“With Minnesotans of color driving population growth and our future economy, our economic success depends on everyone reaching their full potential. Beyond the economic imperative, we have a moral obligation to ensure everyone has the opportunity to succeed,” said Pappas. “The time to act was years ago, so the importance of this subcommittee is evident. Minnesota is a great state that will only become greater once everyone can take off running from the same starting line.”
Sen. Patricia Torres Ray (DFL-Minneapolis) had a bill she is chief authoring heard by the committee today to fund a competitive grant program to increase financial literacy for young women and women of color.
“Today’s historic meeting marked the first time the legislature has dedicated the work of a budget division solely to improving the lives and economic success of Minnesotans of color. We have a lot of work to catch up on, but I think Minnesotans in all parts of the state will see good work coming out of the Senate because of our refocused energies on this issue,” Torres Ray said.
Click here for a full list of bills heard by the committee today.