U.S. Chamber Calls on Congress to Pass Bills to Address Race-Based Opportunity Gaps

Tuesday, August 4, 2020 - 4:30pm

Nation’s largest advocacy group endorses more than a dozen bills; will score lawmakers on the measures 

Bills include proposals to close employment gaps, target federal support to disadvantaged communities, and improve educational opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a letter sent to all members of Congress, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce today formally endorsed more than a dozen individual bills in Congress that would help close longstanding opportunity gaps that exist for Black Americans and people of color. The move is part of the Chamber’s national Equality of Opportunity initiative to develop real, sustainable solutions to help bridge systemic, race-based opportunity gaps in four areas: education, employment, entrepreneurship, and criminal justice.

The bills—many of which have bipartisan support— include the Minority Business Development Act of 2019, which would support entrepreneurship in minority communities; the REAL Act of 2019; which would improve educational opportunities for the incarcerated, and Driving for Opportunity Act of 2020, which would assist in criminal justice efforts.  

The full list of bills is at the bottom of this release, and the Chamber’s broader Equality of Opportunity policy agenda and action plan to address inequality in those four areas can be found here

“This is the next step in our commitment to listen, learn and lead the way to solutions addressing the longstanding, systemic challenges and bridge the opportunity gaps that Black Americans and people of color face,” said Neil Bradley, Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “The Chamber and our hundreds of partners across the country are putting the collective muscle of American business behind these bills, which will get us closer to all Americans having equal opportunities to succeed.”

As part of the endorsement process, these bills will be part of each Member of Congress’s individual scorecard released annually by the Chamber. Members of Congress who cosponsor these bills will receive credit for the Leadership component of their “How They Voted” rating. The endorsements include 13 individual bills representing nine legislative proposals (four of the proposals have been introduced as bills in both the House and Senate). 

The legislative endorsements by the nation’s largest advocacy organization follow stark findings in the Chamber’s special report released this morning on Race and Inequality on Main Street. In addition, the bill endorsements are informed by research in the Chamber’s America’s Opportunity Gaps report released in June. 

In addition to advocating for federal action in Congress, the Chamber is working with its network of more than 1,500 local and state chambers across the country to advance policy solutions at the state and local level, and it is working with members across industries to identify and scale private-sector solutions and best practices to help close opportunity gaps.

“Addressing America’s opportunity gaps is the smart thing to do for our economy, but it is also the right thing for a strong society and our collective future, said Rick Wade, Vice President of Strategic Alliances and Outreach at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “The business community, elected officials and government leaders have the opportunity to come together like never before and address the systemic inequalities that have existed in our society for far too long. Together, we can ensure the American promise of equal opportunity for all.”

The bills the U.S. Chamber is putting its full advocacy and lobbying weight behind are:

Bills to Address Opportunity Gaps in Education

S. 800/H.R. 1766 – College Transparency Act

Led by Sens. Cassidy and Warren and Reps. Mitchell and Krishnamoorthi, this legislation would help address the skills gap by letting students make more informed decisions about their education. The legislation would allow students to find programs that not only suit their interests, but also meet employer needs and lead to success in the workforce post-graduation.  

Bills to Address Opportunity Gaps in Employment

H.R. 5084 – Improving Corporate Governance Through Diversity Act of 2019

Sponsored by Rep. Meeks, H.R. 5084 would facilitate gender, racial, and ethnic diversity on corporate boards.

S. 1066/H.R. 2055 – An Act Targeting Resources to Communities in Need

Legislation by Rep. Clyburn and Sen. Booker would expand the “10-20-30 formula” to target federal funds to persistently high-poverty communities by directing at least 10 percent of funding to counties where 20 percent of the population has lived below the poverty line for 30 years or more.

Bills to Address Opportunity Gaps in Entrepreneurship

H.R. 1432 – Minority Business Development Act of 2019

Legislation by Reps. McNerney and Young would authorize the Minority Business Development Agency to consolidate and lead important existing government initiatives to facilitate growth of minority businesses, and to work with the Securities and Exchange Commission to find new opportunities for business owners of color.

S. 4208/H.R. 6869 – Minority Business Resiliency Act of 2020

COVID-19 has disproportionately hurt businesses of color.  S. 4208 and H.R. 6869, sponsored by Sen. Cardin and Rep. Green, would codify the Minority Business Development Agency and would provide additional funding for minority-owned businesses to help them recover from the pandemic. 

S. 1077 – Necessary Entrepreneurship Workshops via the SBA to Transform and Assist Re-entry Training Act of 2019

Sen. Cardin’s bill would create a pilot program within the Small Business Administration for grants to create and support entrepreneurship programs for the formerly incarcerated.

Bills to Address Opportunity Gaps in our Criminal Justice System

S. 1074/H.R. 2168 – REAL Act of 2019

Led by Sens. Schatz and Lee and Reps. Danny Davis and Banks, this legislation would ensure incarcerated individuals have access to Pell grants without restrictions on what school individuals attend and provide access and opportunity to quality education and training for those in prison.

H.R. 2348 – Clean Slate Act of 2019

Legislation by Reps. Blunt Rochester and Reschenthaler would provide a framework for sealing records related to simple possession of marijuana, sealing of records of arrests for certain drug-related crimes that did not result in conviction, and a petition process to seal records related to conviction for certain nonviolent offenses.

S. 4186 – Driving for Opportunity Act of 2020

This legislation by Sens. Coons and Wicker would provide grants to States that do not suspend, revoke, or refuse to renew a driver’s licenses or refuse to renew a registration of a motor vehicle for failure to pay a civil or criminal fine or fee, and for other purposes.

In the coming weeks, the Chamber expects to announce support for additional bills that would help to close opportunity gaps for Black Americans and people of color.  The full, continuously updated list of bills is available on the Chamber’s website here.