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To the Editor of L. A. Times

May 30, 2014

As leader of an organization representing black businesses throughout California, I am deeply concerned about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new proposed regulations that would, in effect, increase electricity prices by forcing existing power plants to close.

California has some of the country’s highest electricity rates, which already impose a heavy burden on residents and businesses. And across the nation, people in the lowest fifth of income distribution already spend up to 24 percent of their income on energy.

New regulations that would further increase energy prices, perhaps dramatically, will have a disproportionate impact on minorities and the poor. Worse, the engine of economic growth –small businesses that produce the majority of new jobs – will be further damaged by increased costs.

According to a new study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Americans will pay significantly more for electricity, see slower economic growth and fewer jobs, and have less disposable income. The regulations would result in a very slight reduction in carbon emissions, which would be overwhelmed by global increases.

Policymakers need to preserve low-cost electricity, advancing technology, and protect vulnerable citizens and businesses. The current EPA proposal fails these fundamental tests.

There’s An App for That!

Small businesses are on the mobile bandwagon, not only because mobile apps and access increase speed and agility but they also create efficiencies that provide a competitive edge and add to the bottom line when utilized. If you are considering an app for your business, read what some experts have to say about designing mobile apps that your users will love. Read more http://thenextweb.com/dd/2013/05/25/11-tips-for-developing-a-startup-mobile-app-users-love/

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Financial Literacy for Youth blog

Teach and Train Financial Literacy to Black Youth

At the California Black Chamber of Commerce it is, without question, our duty and honor to teach and train the next generation of African American entrepreneurs the most successful route to financial success personally and in business.

As the new century promised, society has ushered in a new business leader, formed from the age of digital technology and deep roots of ingenuity.

If nothing else, the great recession reminded us we must take things into our own hands and create our own way; and within our community we will survive by providing, quality services and innovative, state of the art products and prospering in the free market.

Our youth can take advantage of the emerging opportunities through our effort to provide financial literacy workshops and seminars. It is imperative that we have candid discussions about how to manage personal and business finance with our children.

The Black Chamber stands in harmony with a national movement to prepare the next generation for financial stability.

President Barack Obama recently appointed Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League to the president’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans.

Their goal is to emphasize financial capability among youth and young adults by building strong partnerships between the education community, private industry and government to coordinate the use of high quality financial literacy programming.

We must begin to teach and train our youth how to manage their money at the beginning stages of their life. At the very least, once they learn how to count, they should learn how to count the money they earn.

Our youth entrepreneurs and financial literacy workshops during the annual African American Leadership Weekend features sound financial practices and habits among young people that will increase their upward mobility.

We dig in to the nuts and bolts of financial management. Our intensive exercises challenge the youth on balancing their accounts, handling credit and debt and how they should not spend their financial aid check for college. We implore them to write out a budget, making it clear to them that their financial life can be broken down into categories of bills that must be paid for transportation, food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, entertainment and quite a few others. In addition, we give them tools to explore a variety of ways to enhance their income and live prosperous on their own financial terms.

It is always curious to see a 20 year old, puzzled when their living plan collapses because getting an apartment, maintaining a car, keeping the lights on, eating and buying a shirt and shorts, cost about two times more than his paycheck at the drive through. And he’s still trying to find out what FICA is and why is it taking so much money out of his check every week.

While few of us know what a tax deduction really is, it is critical that we introduce these terms to our youth to increase literacy and understanding and improve economic conditions among African Americans and future business leaders of America.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Let’s get some conversation going….

High Speed Rail Letter 7152014

From: California Black Chamber of Commerce
Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce
To: African-American Media Outlets
RE: Letter to the Editor

High Speed Rail leaves African-Americans at the station:
Black firms awarded only 3% of contracts dollars

One of the selling points of the bullet train was that the California High Speed Rail Project would result in contracts and jobs desperately needed throughout the state. African-Americans praised the Project’s potential economic impact as their unemployment is twice the state average and in some cities almost triple.

After officially filing a complaint with the Federal Rail Administration that resulted in the Rail Authority being required to set disadvantaged business enterprise (ethnic minorities and women) contract goals, many though this would heighten opportunities for African-Americans. Not so according to three reports filed by the Rail Authority to the Federal Rail Administration. Just under $38 million via five (5) contracts were awarded to African-American firms between 2012-2014.

During that same period, the Rail Authority awarded over $1.13 billion through 106 contracts.
While African-American business organizations like the California Black Chamber and the Fresno Metro Black Chamber to the San Joaquin Valley Minority Contractors Association and the Kern County Black Contractors Association has supported the Project, none of these organizations have been contracted with to assist with outreach or contractor readiness.

This level of disconnect from the African-American business community is unacceptable. With more than 3,000 Black contractors across the state and thousands of professional service firms, the Rail Authority and its contractors could more much than find five.

Here are some recommendations for increasing African-American contracting outcomes:
• Race-conscious contracting goals. Given the disparity in contract amongst African-Americans (Native Americans too), the Authority should consider targeted DBE goals to increase contract outcomes.
• Increase outreach with trusted partners to the African-American community. The current contract outcomes are an indication of the success of outreach activities. Currently, no African-American business organization has a contract to provide outreach or technical assistance.
• Ensure contractors are providing supportive services to African-American firms as outlined in the Small Business Program. Activities like umbrella or contract bond and bridge loans programs make the Project accessible for small and minority firms.
• Utilize African-American targeting and owned media outlets to engage potential bidders and job applicants. When is the last time you have seen a high speed rail advertisement or announcement in an African-American newspaper?
• Encourage large subcontractors (Tier 2) to subcontract with minority firms (Tier 3 or 4).

As part of the taxpayer base that voted for Prop. 1A and supports the Project, the CA High Speed Rail Authority and its contractors have a lot ground to make up in the African-American community.

Organizations like the California Black Chamber and the Fresno Metro Black Chamber stand ready to support and encourage the Authority and its contractors to connect with our businesses.

Sincerely,

Aubry L. Stone
President/CEO

Op-ed-The Truth About Payday Loans.

Commentary: Empowering People Through Reliable Access to Short-term Credit By Aubry L. Stone

Millions of American families continue to struggle in the wake of the recession. A recent report from the Consumer Federation of America found that nearly 40 percent live paycheck to paycheck, with half believing they don’t earn enough to save regularly – including some of those making more than $100,000 annually. Confronted with financial difficulties, but with no cushion, many rely on credit to make ends meet.

Unfortunately, many banks have abandoned the business of loaning relatively small amounts of money to consumers, while raising fees and hiding charges in the fine print that accompanies even the simplest of transactions. In their place, many payday lenders offer a simple, reliable and cost-competitive credit option with straightforward terms.

Recent commentary in this space (“The Truth About Payday Loans,” Dedrick Muhammad, Oct. 29), however, contained misleading and inaccurate assertions about payday loans, who uses them and why.

The piece incorrectly described payday loan customers. These folks are hardworking, middle income Americans and include medical and emergency personnel, teachers, small business owners and retail professionals. Advance America, one of the leading providers of payday loans in the U.S., reports that the average customer has an income of more than $54,000, with more than 90 percent holding a high school diploma or higher, and nearly half owning their own homes.

As Mr. Muhammad notes, “In today’s economy there are no easy answers for low- to moderate-income Americans struggling to pay the bills.” That’s why, when confronted with a financial shortfall, these hardworking people consider a number of credit alternatives before choosing a payday loan. According to a study by Dr. Gregory Elliehausen of The George Washington University, options include bank and credit union loans, overdraft fees, credit cards and borrowing from family or friends, as well as the costs and consequences of missing payments. For many, lenders like Advance America, with locations in major shopping centers anchored by other leading retail chains, offer a convenient and reliable option.

Consumers more than appreciate the convenience of the payday loan option – they value the economic benefit of the service. In Advance America’s annual customer survey, 96 percent rated the service as good or excellent. Why? Because it is a cost-competitive, transparent credit option that helps them manage periodic financial difficulties, from monthly bills to unexpected expenses. Most importantly, it provides them with a measure of control over their financial situation.

For years, the California Black Chamber of Commerce has worked with Advance America to improve financial literacy in California. While we agree with Mr. Muhammad and the Pew Charitable Trusts that cutting back on expenses to fit one’s budget is a fundamental aspect of personal financial management, the role and necessity of affordable, accessible and transparent credit to cope with short-term financial difficulties is undeniable. We have come to believe that it is not constructive to dictate choices, but rather to empower consumers with information and advocate for an environment in which all lenders, including banks and credit unions, storefront payday lenders and online lenders, compete for business under the same set of rules.

Regulated storefront lenders operate within a strict framework of federal and state regulations governing nearly every facet of their service, from disclosure requirements to truth in advertising to debt collection practices. For instance, regulated lenders generally cannot loan more than a certain loan amount, usually around $500. Further, these regulated payday lenders are required by federal law to disclose the annual percentage rate (APR) of their loans – despite Mr. Muhammad’s assertion to the contrary – and do so alongside the one-time flat fee for the loan (typically around $15 to borrow $100 for two weeks). This disclosure allows consumers to make informed credit comparisons.

The deep impact of the recession on African Americans, in particular, underscores the urgency of building wealth in our communities and ensuring that people have reliable access to credit. Instead of judging the decisions our friends and neighbors make for their families, let’s take a fresh look at the difficulties people encounter and acknowledge that there is a place for regulated short-term credit. In today’s economy, consumers need it more than ever.

Sincerely,

Aubry L. Stone
President/CEO