INDIANAPOLIS — Sen. Kamala D. Harris on Friday pledged as president to invest more than $70 billion in historically black colleges and universities and minority small businesses, a plan she says will help close the “opportunity gap” that exists between people of color and white counterparts pursuing similar professional opportunities.
The plan is yet another in a growing list of Harris policy proposals geared directly toward African American and other minority communities that her campaign is now referring to as her “black agenda.” Earlier this month, she announced a plan to invest $100 billion to help increase rates of minority homeownership. She has also proposed plans to address disproportionate black maternal mortality rates, legalize marijuana and foster minority involvement in the development of the industry, and provide tax credits and rent credits to low-earning families — credits she says will largely impact communities of color.
Her most recent plan calls for investment in a variety of areas, including $2.5 billion to HBCUs that train teachers and $60 billion in federal investment for science and mathematics training at those colleges, including a $50 billion competitive grant that can be used to fund scholarships or purchase expensive resources. According to the Department of Education, 27 percent of all African Americans graduating with STEM degrees come from HBCUs, though HBCUs make up just three percent of all colleges and universities.
“HBCUs have always been a part of training our future,” Harris told the crowd Friday at a National Urban League convention meeting. “Now, in the midst of a technical, technological and digital revolution, we must ensure that everyone participates in the wealth it creates.”
Former vice president Joe Biden, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are among the Democratic candidates who have also called for massive federal investments in HBCUs.
In his address to the convention Friday, Buttigieg touted his Douglass Plan — wide-ranging policy initiatives modeled after the post-World War II Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe.
“We’ve learned the hard way that you can’t just take a racist structure, replace it with a neutral structure, and expect all the racism to wash away,” said Buttigieg, whose campaign announced a plan earlier Friday to raise the minimum wage to $15, provide for paid family and sick leave, and allow independent contractors, domestic workers, and members of the gig economy to collectively bargain and unionize.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) also addressed the conference on Friday, and earned some of the loudest applause of the day for explaining her belief that she must, as a white woman, use her standing to speak up for the issues facing African Americans.
Harris, in her plan, joined Warren, Buttigieg and others in calling for ways to aid minority small-business owners with start-up costs. Studies have shown that black entrepreneurs have a harder time securing loans — and are loaned less at higher interest rates when they do — than white entrepreneurs.
Harris’s proposal calls for a federal investment of $12 billion in grant money from the U.S. Department of Commerce. She would also forgive up to $20,000 in student loans to Pell Grant recipients who start and maintain businesses for three years in disadvantaged communities.
Her plan promises to speed up the application process of the Minority Business Development Agency that assists minority-run businesses attain federal contracts. It also calls for reinstating and investing $10 billion in the State Small Business Credit Initiative, by which states can help foster minority small business ownership, too.
“By taking these challenges on, we don’t just move black America forward,” Harris said. “All of America moves forward. All of America will benefit.”
As for many of her other proposals, Harris has not yet said how she will pay for the new plans. An aide to her campaign suggested that many will be funded by increased taxes on the wealthy and Wall Street, and through closing tax loopholes. Her plans to date — including a federal investment in teacher pay, Medicare-for-all and others — would carry a total cost of more than $2 trillion as written, some in lump sums and some over time.
While Harris did not take on her fellow Democratic candidates, she did bring up President Trump’s recent tweet in which he suggested four congresswomen should “go back” to the countries from which they came. (Three are U.S.-born; the fourth arrived as a child refugee from Somalia.)
She incorporated her response into a message on which she is placing increased emphasis in her campaign stump speech — a message pushing to move the country forward instead of trying to, as Trump’s campaign slogan puts it, “Make America Great Again.”
“When he looks at women of color who are serving their country in the United States Congress . . . and he tells them to go back to where they came from. What do we say? We’re not going back,” Harris said. “I’ll tell you where we’re going. We’re going to the White House.”