Category: Business Written by Zenitha Prince
The once-towering stature of the Black bank has diminished. After almost 125 years of serving the underserved, the Black banking community has been brought to a new low by a shrinking clientele, questions of relevance, competition from big banks and the fluctuating fortunes of its traditional client base—churches, small businesses and lower- and middle-income Blacks, who have borne the brunt of the economic recession.
Last Updated on Friday, 10 May 2013 09:11
Category: Business Written by George E. Curry
WASHINGTON (NNPA)—Marie Johns, the retired president of Washington Verizon, was busy managing a consulting firm when she received an unexpected call three years ago from the White House.
“I got a call one day from White House personnel to come in and talk about a position with the administration,” she recounted. “Of course, given the historic nature of President Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency, I was honored to answer that call.”
That call was to become Deputy Administrator of the Small Business Administration, a federal agency that provides small businesses with access to capital, federal contracting as well as training and counseling. The Senate unanimously confirmed her for the post on June 22, 2010.
At the end of May, Johns plans to return to her consulting firm, proud of the record she is leaving behind.
“Coming to the SBA was a natural for me,” she said during a recent interview at her office in Southwest Washington, D.C. “I had been focusing on small business for many years.”
She had been around small businesses all of her life.
“During the 1950’s my grandfather started a small landscaping company in our hometown of Indianapolis,” she said in a Feb.7 note to the SBA staff notifying employees of her intention to return to the private sector. “It went on to become one of the first African American-owned businesses to win a state contract in Indianapolis. I saw firsthand how that business not only improved the lives of our family, but also created opportunities for his employees and our community. My grandfather’s entrepreneurial spirit has inspired my work every day at the SBA.”
Johns is proud of her accomplishments at the SBA.
“All across the SBA, we have worked hard to address the needs of underserved communities,” she said in her note to the staff. “We have worked together to improve processes and programs with the goal of making the SBA one of the best places to work in the federal government. We have joined together after countless disasters to assist families and business owners as they rebuild their lives and livelihoods. We have provided businesses the capital, counseling, and contracting they need to fuel economic growth and create jobs. And, together, we have helped restore confidence in the American Dream.”
If the American Dream is going to be realized, it will be partly as a result of growing in global markets.
“About 87 percent of the exporters in the country are small businesses,” she said. “But the majority of them export to one country.” She explained, “Ninety-plus percent of the consumer power in the world is outside of the United States. So, exports have to be part of the growth strategy for small businesses down the road.”
Michael A. Grant, president of the National Bankers Association, credited Johns with restoring trust between the NBA, most of whose members are Black, and the federal agency.
“She actively and aggressively worked to include minority banks in all new programs,” he said.
“Instead of merely urging small banks to develop stronger ties to big banks, she made sure that happened. She brought five or six mega-banks to our meeting. She not only set up the meeting, she chaired the meeting herself. She is incredible.”
Harry C. Alford, president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, is perhaps Johns’ fiercest critic. He uses another word—“terrible”—to describe her tenure at the SBA.
“She has actually refused to meet with any of our 150 chapters,” he said via email. “Ignoring the largest Black business association in the world is a blueprint for failure. The numbers show it—1 percent Black contracting and 1 percent SBA guaranteed loans to Black business.”
Alford cites the SBA as the source of his figures. However, Johns says the SBA does not separate figures by race, though it hopes to eventually be able to provide a more detailed breakout. She says that over the past four years, SBA has supported more than $106 billion in lending to more than 193,000 small businesses and entrepreneurs, including two record years of providing more than $30 billion in loan guarantees.
In addition, she said, her agency has helped small businesses access more than $286.3 billion in federal contracts—$32 billion more than the preceding three years. That is more noteworthy because the increased spending with small businesses occurred as overall federal contract spending was decreasing.
She said Black businesses have profited from that activity.
Ron Busby, president of the U.S. Black Chamber, Inc., has worked closely with Johns. He drafted a letter on behalf of his organization, the National Bankers Association, the NAACP, the National Urban League, the National 8(a) Association and other groups urging President Obama to select her to head the SBA following the resignation of Administrator Karen Mills.
“Deputy Administrator Johns is one of the strongest advocates in the federal government for small businesses overall, as well as for small businesses owned by racial and ethnic minorities,” the letter said. It went on to praise her for increasing access to capital, expanding federal contracting with people of color and helping create partnerships with other ethnic business associations.
Johns says she has also sought to build a greater sensitivity to what she calls underserved groups. By her count, she has met with staff in all 10 regions and visited 48 district offices, 41 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.
Johns said she is pleased that capital is again flowing to small businesses, SBA paperwork has been reduced and that she has aggressively engaged business groups, not waiting for them to come to the SBA for support.
When pressed to cite her greatest accomplishment, Johns said, “I would say leaving a legacy of commitment to the underserved agenda for the SBA and really putting in place programs and initiatives that will carry on.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 09 May 2013 12:16
Category: Business Written by Damon Carr
I recently received a phone call from a friend of mine. He was stressed out, confused and scared. He recently went through a divorce that resulted in him accumulating more than $60,000 in debts. As if the events leading up to the divorce wasn't overwhelming enough, he's now dealing with the mounting pressure of trying to make payments on this new debt in addition to pay the rest of his bills and expenses, eat and have a life.
The pressure was getting to him. Things were tight! He needed some wiggle room in his budget and he needed it fast. He thought he found the "magic pill" to his problem when he saw a commercial on television offering debt negotiation services. The pitch was, “Cut your debt in half! Pay off all your unsecured debt in under five years with minimum payments! Don't trash your credit report by filing bankruptcy! Allow our law firm who specializes in ‘Debt Settlement Negotiations’ to work on your behalf. Never deal with a creditor or collection company again!”
The 60-second commercial was still running when he picked up the phone and dialed in. The representative who answered the phone told him everything he wanted to hear. He was told that his $60,000 unsecured debt balance would be settled for approximately $42,000 in five years or less. He was told that his monthly payments on this debt would be $736 per month. He was currently paying approximately $1,364 per month. The idea of saving $628 per month and paying this debt off in five years had him salivating at the mouth. He was told that his credit would remain in good standing because a law firm was representing him.
He was on board immediately. He had them fax over the paper work. He signed the agreement and faxed it back to them along with a voided check so that they can do a direct debit from his checking account for $736 per month. Nonetheless, he had some suspicion. He decided to call me to see if he'd made a good decision.
When I learned that he was working with a debt negotiation company, I told him that he has to be careful for there are a lot of scam artists who pose as debt negotiation companies. They make claims that they can settle debt for you. They request an initial deposit of a couple of thousand dollars. After they receive the check, you never hear from them again. The hairs on his arms stood straight as he listened intensely to me. He shared the details of the program he signed up for. I told him that there were some legitimate debt negotiation companies out there, but he'll pay a stiff fee for their services and his credit will be trashed. I went on to share the details of what I was sure they did not tell him.
Credit Trashed—In order to get a settlement on your debt, you have to be severely behind on your account. As a result, they'll discourage you from making payments on your accounts. Instead, they'll ask that you send them a check every month. They will not use the money you're sending them to make payments on your debts. They'll set up a trust account on your behalf. When you have accumulated enough money in the trust account, they'll negotiate settlements on your debts one debt at a time. During this process, your credit report will report major delinquencies on the accounts you included in this plan, ultimately trashing your credit.
Fees, Fees and More Fees—You’ll pay a non-refundable retainer fee up to 10 percent of the balance of the account you included in this program. Since you have $60,000 in debt, your fee will be $6,000. You'll pay a monthly maintenance fee of approximately $65 per month or $780 per year for the privilege of them managing your trust account. You'll pay fees to them and your bank if a check you sent to them bounced. You'll pay an overnight fee or a wire fee when money is sent to a creditor to settle on an account. Worst of all, you'll pay a settlement fee of up to 33 percent on the portion of the debt they negotiated to be waived. In other words, if the balance on your debt is $1,200 and they negotiate a settlement for $600, they're going to charge you a fee of $198.
Cancellation of Debt Is a Taxable Event—The IRS considers any debt you owe that was cancelled or forgiven as taxable income unless an exception such as bankruptcy applies. In the year that a settlement is reach on your debt, both you and the IRS will receive a 1099-C, disclosing the amount of the debt that was cancelled or forgiven. You're required to include the amount as income on your tax return, potentially increasing your tax liability.
Once you factor in fees, taxes and the high interest rates you're likely to receive in the future because of having spotty credit, is there a benefit? You don't need to pay an attorney exorbitant fees to stop making payments on various credit cards, trash your credit, and negotiate settlements. Not that I recommend it, but anyone can pull that off. If there were a benefit to “Debt Negotiation Companies,” it would be the fact that they'll deal with debt collectors on your behalf. The fact remains that they can't guarantee you a settlement nor can they guarantee that the creditors won't take you to court.
(Mortgage and Money Coach Damon Carr is the owner of ACE Financial. Damon can be reached at 412-216-1016.)
Last Updated on Thursday, 09 May 2013 09:50
Category: Business Written by Charlene Crowell
(NNPA)—According to a new research report, America’s racial wealth gaps will persist until public policy reforms provide every family the opportunity to build wealth.
“Less than Equal: Racial Disparities in Wealth Accumulation,” from the Urban Institute’s Opportunity and Ownership project, analyzed data and trends from 1983-2010. Over these years, the average household income of Whites remained double that of either Black or Latino families.
But when wealth was considered, the amount of available assets remaining after all indebtedness was deducted, White families’ wealth grew six times that of either that for either Black or Latino families.
“When it comes to economic gaps between Whites and communities of color in the United States, income inequality tells part of the story. But let’s not forget about wealth. Wealth isn’t just money in the bank; its insurance against tough times, tuition to get a better education and a better job, savings to retire on and a springboard into the middle class. In short, wealth translates into opportunity.”
The report also found that although the Great Recession of (2007-2009) hit communities of color particularly hard, the type of financial losses varied. With Black unemployment double that of the rest of the nation, Black retirement assets fell by 35 percent during these years. This data suggests that lower-income Black families withdrew money from retirement savings following a job loss or other adverse events. For Latinos, the average retirement asset decline was 18 percent.
By contrast, the Great Recession years took half of Latino family home equity, compared to an average 25 percent for Black and White families. To better understand this lost wealth, it is relevant to note that in 2010 only half of Black and Latino families owned their homes, while 75 percent of Whites were homeowners.
With more assets and diversified income streams, White wealth declined 11 percent during the Great Recession. But Black wealth dropped 31 percent during these same years and Latino families dropped the greatest at 44 percent.
Yet despite these findings, it is equally true that many families of color still desire to own a home and their own piece of America. Their dreams may be deferred, but still remains strong. As the nation’s economy continues to struggle towards prosperity, tightened mortgage lending, higher FHA fees, and continued discussions of federally-mandated down payments do not bode well for more families of color reaching the American Dream.
For the Urban Institute, the answer to these growing and disturbing disparities is reconsidering public policies.
“Families of color were disproportionately affected by the recession. However, the fact that they were not on good wealth-building paths before this financial crisis calls into question whether a whole range of polices (from tax to safety net) have actually been helping minorities get ahead in the modern economy,” according to the study.
Contrasting programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families as two social safety programs designed to provide basic essentials; the report noted how tax subsidies for homeownership and retirement policies actually help to build wealth.
“The federal government spends hundreds of billions of dollars each year to support long-term asset development. But these asset-building subsidies primarily benefit high-income families, while low-income families receive next to nothing.”
The Urban Institute’s conclusions are strikingly similar to those reached earlier this year by the Brandeis University’s Institute on Assets and Policies.
“The evidence points to policy and the configuration of both opportunities and barriers in workplaces, schools and communities that reinforce deeply entrenched racial dynamics in how wealth is accumulated and that continue to permeate the most important spheres of everyday life,” the Brandeis report stated.
Here’s hoping that those entrusted with policy decisions are listening.
Last Updated on Thursday, 09 May 2013 09:51
Category: Business Written by Christian Morrow - Courier Staff Writer
YOU’RE WELCOME—Business Luncheon keynote speaker Dr. William Winkenwerder poses with a gift presented to him by African American Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Doris Carson Williams and Board Chairman Sam Stephenson. (Photos by J.L. Martello.)
African American Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Doris Carson Williams welcomed a packed ballroom of members, friends and partners to the annual Business Luncheon at the Omni William Penn with “cautious optimism” on economic prospects for the coming year.
“For small businesses, it’s still a mixed story,” she said. “Our membership is up, we’re seeing growth in every category, and businesses are finding our members. But small minority businesses are still struggling to meet their bottom lines.”
One of the businesses that is a success story, she noted, is KBK Enterprises, whose founder Keith B. Key grew up in the Hill District and who is back managing the redevelopment of Addison Terrace. His company is the chamber’s newest Chairman’s Circle member.
Williams also highlighted some of the chamber’s successful initiatives from the previous year including its Marcellus Shale forum, its diabetes series and its partnership with the University of Pittsburgh on the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence.
She then introduced Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who gave some brief congratulatory remarks before heading to another engagement. Following Rev. Kevin Cooper’s invocation and lunch, Williams introduced Highmark Inc. President and CEO Dr. William Winkenwerder.
He noted Williams’ apparent magic touch in that, though scheduled months ago, his appearance came two days after regulators approved Highmark’s ownership of the former West Penn Allegheny Health System.
Winkenwerder, a North Carolina native, has been a practicing physician, an entrepreneur, head of a health insurance trade group and U.S. assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.
“The first thing I want to do is to say thank you to all the business leaders, policy makers, unions and supporters whose voices were heard in Harrisburg,” he said. “Choice in healthcare is very important. Affordable choices only come when strong entities can compete.”
He said the new regional company had been formed under Highmark Health will be called Allegheny Health Network and will operate as a nonprofit. Because though its health plans, vision plans, dental plans and even manufacturing, Highmark covers 34 million Americans in some fashion, the new network will bring healthcare delivery and financing together in a cost effective manner.
“We are a national company but we intend our flag to be planted here in Pittsburgh,” he said.
Winkenwerder noted that with the Affordable Healthcare Act set to be implemented in the fall--if all goes as planned--the new network would offer bronze, silver and gold insurance plans.
“While it may cover more people, it is driving costs even higher,” he said. “But we still have Community Blue. And while it offers a limited network and fewer choices, it has 2ª percent lower premiums.”
As for the “battle” between Highmark and UPMC, Winkenwerder said there needn’t be one.
“We want us to work together,” he said. “We have a big impact on the region. I think our members should be able to go to their facilities, and theirs to ours. We want to be part of the solution, and we look forward to working with all of you.”
Following his remarks, Williams and chamber Board Chairman Sam Stephenson gave him their traditional pin and cufflinks. Stephenson welcomed new members and thanked the chamber staff for an excellent job during the past year.
(Send comments to email@example.com.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 May 2013 10:19
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