Black owned businesses in St. Louis and throughout the state of Missouri could benefit from President Biden’s proposed $1 trillion infrastructure bill that the Senate passed last week. While a version of the bill must pass the Democratically controlled House, its acceptance is expected and is being celebrated by many Black business organizations.
The bill would make the Minority Business Development Agency a permanent part of the federal government, according to Todd Gilyard, St. Louis MBDA project director.
“Since its inception, (the MBDA) has needed an executive order that is signed off by the president,” Gilyard said.
“We would now be permanent. We do not have to go back before Congress, get its approval, and then have the president sign off.”
The bill also expands its national budget from $42 million to $110 million.
“This is great for minority owned businesses. It gives the MBDA more access to service and funding,” Gilyard said.
The bill’s pending approval comes as the St. Louis MBDA expands to service the state of Missouri, not just the St. Louis region.
Gilyard added that there has been “an ongoing effort” to make the MBDA a permanent fixture of the U.S. government, and the infrastructure bill will be a culmination of that work.
Established by The Nixon administration in 1969, the MBDA focuses on developing and advocating for minority-owned businesses. It is a division of the Department of Commerce. The agency has been required to ask the presiding US President for new funding each year.
Ron Busby Sr., U.S. Black Chambers of Commerce president and CEO calls the bill “a win for us in a big way that may not necessarily be known by most people.”
The organization represents 143 Black chambers of commerce in America and more than 380,000 Black business owners in America, Canada and parts of Africa. Busby and other minority business representatives have been lobbying the Biden administration throughout the year to include provisions in the infrastructure package to help Black, Hispanic and Asian-American entrepreneurs.
The MBDA amendment would also expand the agency’s geographic reach by granting it resources to open regional offices and rural business centers. Those facilities would be administered through historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority-serving institutions, according to Sen. Ben Cardin, D, Maryland, and Sen. Tim Scott, R, South Carolina, who co-sponsored the amendment.
“We wanted to increase the resources going into this agency so we can get more entrepreneurship in minority communities,” Cardin told CNN Business.
“For our economy to perform at the level it needs to, we need everyone to have opportunity in this country.”
The Senate infrastructure bill’s MBDA amendment would also give financial assistance for both public and private sector development, provide additional grants to nonprofits that support minority business enterprises, and create a new program to promote entrepreneurship at HBCUs and MSIs.
The bill also includes provisions that would break up large infrastructure projects into smaller contract deals and allow minority-owned businesses to make exclusive bids on those projects to ensure greater racial equity, according to Busby.
Minority business owners have historically been systemically excluded from securing often lucrative federal contracts for infrastructure work, such as building bridges and highways, according to a 2016 MBDA report.
Progressive Democrats and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have vowed not to support their own version of the measure unless it is coupled with a House version of the Senate’s $3.5 trillion budget resolution bill, which Democrats passed with a 50-49 party-line vote.
House Democratic moderates have threatened to withhold support for the budget resolution until Pelosi allows a vote on the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.
It’s also an open question as to whether the infrastructure bill’s minority business proposals can survive both political and constitutional scrutiny, according to Busby.
In June, a federal judge in Wisconsin issued a temporary restraining order blocking the US Department of Agriculture from issuing payments to Black farmers under a policy established in the $1.9 billion stimulus bill signed by President Joe Biden in March.
Busby said he expects the infrastructure bill will face similar judicial challenges if signed into law in its current form.
“Yes, I believe it will be challenged, but that’s nothing new,” he said. "We've always been ready for the fight and many times we win the fight."