Committee Summary: House Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy (Mar. 17)

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By: Kate Foley, Freelance Journalist-in-Training

On Wednesday, March 17, 2021, the Minnesota House Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee met to discuss multiple proposed bills. The conversation largely focused on professional and economic development grants for various communities, businesses, and nonprofits.

Discussed first was HF 1630, a bill authored by Rep. Mohamud Noor (DFL-Minneapolis). If passed, the bill would allow local governments a onetime exception to rules on revolving loan funds for businesses. Noor explained how HF 1630 takes into account issues many local businesses face, in which they haven’t been able to conduct the activities required under the Minnesota Investment Fund, a DEED business financing program which focuses on statewide economic improvement through awarding funds to local governments. Participating cities, counties, and townships provide loans to assist eligible expanding businesses.

“This bill before you today would give relief to some businesses under the peacetime emergency timeframe,” said Kevin McKinnon, deputy commissioner of economic development at DEED. McKinnon said HF 1630 will allow businesses more time to reach their wage, job, and investment goals. The bill, as amended, was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

The second bill discussed was HF 389, the Women of Color Opportunity Act. Chiefly authored by Rep. Hodan Hassan (DFL-Minneapolis), this bill would provide opportunities to BIPOC women and girls for educational and professional development. 

“Women of color in the United States experience the nation’s persistent and inescapable gender wage gaps most severely. The gap represents the tangible consequences of sexism and systemic inequities in the United States and even in our great state of Minnesota,” Hassan said. 

Referencing U.S. Census data, she shared how BIPOC women make significantly less on the dollar than white men. This bill would address some of the core issues impacting women of color in the workplace through programs focusing on financial literacy, academic success, business development grants, and STEM career exploration.

Testifying in favor of HF 389 was Lulete Mola, the chief strategy and innovation officer at the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota. She spoke about racial disparities and gender inequality in Minnesota. She stressed how this legislation would provide critical investments in business and education which helps families and communities thrive. Mariana Cervantes, recent Hamline graduate and cabinet member of the Minnesota Young Women’s Initiative Council, also testified in support. She shared her experience in navigating financial literacy and education with the help of a high school teacher. “Not all first-generation immigration students have the opportunity that I did,” Cervantes said.

Hassan said this bill is “about equity, about fairness, about making sure members of our community are not trapped in the cycle of poverty.” Committee chair Noor renewed motion for HF 389, as amended, to be referred to the House Education Finance Committee. The motion prevailed.

The following bill, HF 1364, was presented by Rep. Tou Xiong (DFL-Maplewood). Xiong, chief author of HF 1364, said this bill continues the investment made by Minnesota in 2017 to provide East African youth with economic development services. Xiong said HF 1364 will enhance long-term economic self-sufficiency in East African communities. This funding will specifically be granted to community organizations, Youthprise and Rising Impact.

Marcus Pope, vice president of Youthprise, testified in support of HF 1364. Pope said the previous round of funding helped with internship placements, career exploration and planning, education and language support, mentoring, and other services. Mohamed Farah, Executive Director of Rising Impact, also testified in support of the bill. Farah said East African youth who completed their program have seen much success in fields like technology, social work, public service, and more. Xiong renewed motion for HF 1364, as amended, to be laid over for possible inclusion.

The last bill discussed was HF 2019, authored by Xiong, which would provide continued funding for a nonprofit infrastructure grant program and sustain the work being done by nonprofits. 

“When we consider how the pandemic has shown us that the cracks in our disparities have now become fault lines, it underscores the imperative need we have to support the nonprofit sector,” said Nancy Fasching, vice president of community impact at Southwest Initiative Foundation, echoing other testifiers representing various nonprofits who also stressed the urgency of nonprofit support. Xiong renewed motion for HF 2019, as amended, to be laid over for possible inclusion.

Noor recessed the committee meeting. The remaining bill undiscussed on the agenda for March 17, HF 1784, were heard on Monday, March 22, 2021.

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