U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris has announced $1.73 billion in grants have been awarded to for more than 600 community lenders that support small businesses and entrepreneurs in financially underserved communities across the nation.

Harris unveiled the grants Monday during a teleconference call with reporters, stating the funds will go to 603 community development financial institutions through the CDFI Equitable Recovery Program, which seeks to aid low- and moderate-income communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program was designed to provide CDFIs with funds to expand lending, grant making and investment activities in these hard-hit communities, with aims to help borrowers, in particular minorities, who have “significant unmet capital and financial services needs,” according to a government factsheet.

“Across our nation, there are entrepreneurs and small-business owners with big plans and a vision for the future — folks who want to build a brand, buy inventory, invest in online ads and hire more workers, but who cannot because they simply don’t have access to the capital or financial services they need,” Harris told reporters Monday during the teleconference.

For some, these challenges are even more substantial, she said, stating Black entrepreneurs are three times more likely to say they did not apply for a loan from fear of being turned away, while Latino entrepreneurs received less than 1% of funds from top venture capital and private equity firms despite accounting for 25% of new business owners.

Some Asian businesses owners facing language barriers tend to have limited access to capital and banking services, while rural residents, including Native Americas, often lack access to traditional financial services, she continued.

“These banks predominantly do business in overlooked and underserved communities. They know these communities. They understand these communities. And in particular, most importantly, they know and see the capacity of these communities.”

According to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the investment unveiled Monday represents that largest CDFI grant program in history.

“These grants will be transformative for grantees that are building a more equitable, resilient economy along with helping sustain our strong economic recovery,” Yellen said Monday in a statement. “These critical resources will allow mission-driven lenders to expand access to capital in financially underserved communities, which will help increase contributions to long-term economic growth.”

U.S. Treasury officials said institutions that were awarded grants include banks, holding companies and credit unions as well as non-depository loan funds and venture funds.

Among recipients highlighted by Harris during the call included Liberty Financial Services, which is part of Liberty Bank, one of the largest Black-owned U.S. financial institutions; Pennsylvania’s Community First Fund, which mostly lends to businesses owned by people of color; and Mississippi’s BankPlus, which serves rural communities.

“It is also important to note that community lenders do so much more than support small businesses,” Harris said. “They also provide home loans for families, financial services for local nonprofits and capital for community organizations.”

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