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'Long-standing structural inequities' the target of Women of Color Opportunity Act

House Photography file photo
House Photography file photo

Long-standing economic and racial inequities are the driving force behind the Women of Color Opportunity Act.

For example, Rep. Hodan Hassan (DFL-Mpls) said Minnesota is second-worst in the nation on racial disparities and Latinas earn 53 cents for every dollar a white man earns.

“Long-standing structural inequities fueled by racism, sexism, ethnic stereotypes and other forms of bias have created an uneven landscape that makes it difficult for many women of color to secure jobs, solid wages, and opportunity for advancement,” she said.

Hassan sponsors HF389, the Women of Color Opportunity Act, which would establish and fund grant and loan programs for organizations supporting girls and women of color in business, education, employment and finance. Goals include encouraging academic success, increasing financial literacy, expanding access to STEM careers and funding high-wage, high-demand nontraditional jobs.

The House Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee approved the bill, as amended, 11-0 Wednesday and sent it to the House Education Finance Committee. The companion, SF547, sponsored by Sen. Patricia Torres Ray (DFL-Mpls), awaits action by the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee.

Appropriations in the bill include $7.85 million for two small-business development programs:

  • $4 million to fund loans through the Minnesota emerging entrepreneur program; and
  • $3.85 million for a business development competitive grant program managed by the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Fiscal year 2022 appropriations are unspecified for four other programs in the bill, but Hassan said those would be determined before the bill’s next committee stop.

Any money appropriated to fund high-wage, high-demand nontraditional jobs would go into the Women and High-Wage, High-Demand, Nontraditional Jobs Grant Program account.

“As young women, many of us have had to choose between obtaining an education and maintaining financial stability,” the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota stated in written testimony. “This bill would equip us with the resources to pursue our goals while maintaining our financial well-being.”

Lulete Mola, the foundation’s chief strategy and innovation officer, said that while slow progress is being made by white women to close the gender pay gap, wage disparities are growing for women of color.

“This legislation provides critical investments in business, education and career pathways to meaningfully address the crisis,” she said.

Giving young women opportunities to thrive early on in life is key to them achieving their educational and career goals, Mola said, adding that such outcomes will have multiple benefits.

“We know that when young women thrive, their families thrive, because young women are playing critical roles in their families,” she said. “They are financial contributors, they are caretakers. And so if they are helping families thrive, communities thrive, and then all of us in Minnesota thrive.”

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