Jan. 20, 2021 begins a new era for the United States as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take office as president and VP. They bring with them ambitious policy plans that have given Philadelphia business leaders hope for the different communities they serve.
While he admits that Biden’s plans are bullish, Steven Scott Bradley believes big thinking is what the country needs after four years of a controversial Trump administration. The chairman of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey is impressed with the effort Biden’s administration has shown so far in pushing vaccine distribution.
“In this day and age, we need some positive news considering what we’ve been faced with over the past four years,” Bradley told Technical.ly. “I love the fact that he continues to take the high road and unify the country. As our president, I think it’s important that he continues to make the pandemic a priority.”
Bradley is hopeful that the president’s plans to distribute a $15,000 tax credit for families to buy homes comes to fruition. Deferring student loan payments will also help African Americans under 40 who he said are too hampered by debt to consider buying a home. By the federal government setting a precedent, he believes that will put pressure on states and city governments to respond similarly.
“That’s how we create wealth in our community,” he said. “We’re homeowners instead of renters and that’s going to help build local businesses.”
Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President Jennifer Rodríguez is hopeful that the Latinx small business community can benefit from tax incentives for small business owners and the expansion of healthcare, and the capping of premiums. She’s found that small business owners often suffer when competing for talent because they are unable to provide employee benefits commensurate with those of larger benefits.
Changes to immigration policies will be instrumental for Latinx families and business owners looking for a better chance at success in America, and by extension, Philadelphia, she said. Adding flexibility in access to work visas for certain industries will benefit Latinx immigrants.
“The Latino community has a strong immigrant population, and modifications for improvement in quality of life for immigrants such as reunification for parents and children that have been separated at border [is important],” she said.
Rodriguez considers vaccination to be an economic development imperative. Committing to equitable vaccine distribution in Black and brown communities will be integral in ensuring safety for groups that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
Even with these and other services meant to benefit less resourced communities, however, Rodriguez is concerned as to whether they will be rolled out with an adequate level of language access, cultural competency and geographic distribution.
“Oftentimes, these services are not adequate for the language and culture they’re intended to target or places that are accessible,” she said. “Are they being deployed and accessible to entrepreneurs of color?”
Equality for all
For Zach Wilcha, executive director of the Independence Business Alliance, the city’s LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce, the equitable distribution of vaccinations will also get the local economy and struggling hospitality industry — which employs many LGBTQ+ workers — back on track.
“The success of so many businesses, especially those with customer service and face-to-face interaction, rests on creating safe, trusting environments for customers and employees,” he said. “While I believe that many social distancing and protective equipment measures will remain in place after a critical mass of shots have been administered, the vaccines will add an extra, needed layer of risk mitigation that could jump start the economy and bring back the hospitality industry.”
Wilcha believes that the federal minimum wage increasing to $15 an hour could have a drastic impact on the local economy. As women and minorities would disproportionately benefit from higher wages, he believes that it has the potential to reduce local inequality. In addition, higher wages could also result in in more consumer spending and better worker morale. This all can only happen, however, if consistent support is given to small business so that they don’t have to minimize their workforce.
Biden has called transgender discrimination the “civil rights issue of our time” and Wilcha asserted that his administration is already primed to be the most LGBTQ-friendly and inclusive administration in American history. Their goals of reversing policies made during the Trump administration bodes well for the LGBTQ+ community, he said.
“Many of their progressive goals will be accomplished by reversing the course of the Trump’s administration, including the outgoing administration’s retrograde and discriminatory policies that excluded protections for transgender individuals in health care, federal employment, federal prisons, homeless shelters, military service and many other services receiving federal funds,” he said. “My hope is that his priorities and policies, such as his promise to pass the Equality Act, continue to reflect his commitment to this underserved community.”
The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.
Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.