HOPE CEO Bill Bynum Testifies Before U.S. Senate Banking Committee on Building an Inclusive Economy in Rural Communities
April 20th, 2021
Below is an excerpt of testimony provided by Bill Bynum to the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, “An Economy that Works For Everyone: Investing in Rural Communities.” During the hearing, Bill recommends strategies to increase economic opportunity by expanding access to financial services, drawing on HOPE’s experience in the Delta and Black Belt and other rural communities in the Deep South.
People, when afforded opportunity and access to the right tools, will climb the economic ladder. Yet many of our members live in communities entrenched in poverty. They lack critical infrastructure such as quality schools, grocery stores, broadband, and affordable housing, and the financial tools necessary to obtain these economic mobility-enhancing assets. These needs have been neglected for generations, as reflected by the region’s acute and persistent poverty.
Prior to COVID-19, Deep South communities were already dealing with the pre-existing crises of racial and economic inequality. The current triple threat of the health, economic and social justice crises is the convergence of centuries of policies and practices that have extracted, discriminated and under invested in Deep South people and communities. As the nation seeks to recover from COVID-19, Deep South communities, especially communities of color, are now even more precariously situated on the brink of economic and social devastation. Policy decisions made today have the opportunity to break, rather than repeat this cycle of inequity.
HOPE’s testimony provides important context on existing disparities and under-investment in the Deep South, while also highlighting solutions that we know will work including:
- Increase investments into CDFIs with a track record of reaching underserved communities and those hit hardest by COVID-19,
- Close opportunity gaps in bank lending, service, and investment in underserved communities,
- Deploy funds in ways that account for existing racial and economic disparities,
- Build and preserve wealth in rural communities, particularly communities of color, through homeownership and small business ownership, and
- Strengthen consumer protections that prevent wealth stripping and build assets.
People in rural areas know what solutions work best for their communities, and have consistently demonstrated their capability of doing it, most often with significantly fewer resources than other communities. CDFIs with track records of reaching and working in partnership with communities of color and rural communities model solutions that work. With adequate resources supporting these institutions, and increased commitment by others to do the same, it is possible to ensure prosperity and mobility in the most economically distressed communities in rural America.