An event titled “Legislative Session Wrap-Up: Gender-Equity Style” was held at the State Capitol Building in St. Paul July 13. Moderating was Kabo Yang of Minnesota Women’s Consortium. One of the speakers at this discussion was Representative Rena Moran.
Moran represents District 65A, one of three Black legislators and the only Black woman legislator. Moran spoke about the Women of Color Opportunities Act and stressed the importance of legislation aimed at supporting women and girls of color.
“We know that women of color in Minnesota are strong, resilient, and dedicated to their families,” said Moran. “They are an essential part to the Minnesota economic and social fabric. They are also robust participants in the labor force.”
She proceeded with some data: “75 percent of African American mothers are in the labor force… African American women own almost half of all African American-owned businesses, yet African American women are only earning 62 cents to every dollar a White male earns.”
She continued, “The median earnings for African American women in Minnesota declined about 14 percent from 2013 to 2014. Over 64 percent of Minnesota’s African American female heads of households with young children live in poverty.”
She added that African American girls are suspended from school at a rate six times that of their White counterparts. This data prompted the Women of Color Opportunities Act, which is designed to “increase opportunity for women and girls of color to succeed in school, in the workforce and small business community,” said Moran.
The bills that were submitted as a result of the act are focused on increasing academic success for girls of color, reduction of school suspension, increased on-time graduation rates, supporting the pursuit of post-secondary education, and educating women and girls of color around literacy, according to Moran.
The bills also support training for high demand, nontraditional jobs in skilled trades. The bills address small business loans and the importance of technical assistance to small businesses owned by women of color.
“From my vantage point, the [House] Republicans refused to recognize and value that these [challenges] exist and they refused to put a budget toward these [challenges],” said Moran. “Fortunately, bills move a lot faster in the senate. I was able to get a hearing, and some women came in to testify and talk about the issues affecting women of color. Thanks to the hearing in the senate we were able to get some funding.”
Moran identified some of the organizations that received funding:
Girls in Action should receive $1.5 million in 2017 to continue to provide and expand Twin Cities’ school and community-based programs that encourage and support low-income girls, including girls of color, to graduate from high school on time, complete a postsecondary preparation program, become community leaders and participate in service learning.
YWCA-Minneapolis should receive $750,000 in 2017 and 375,000 in both 2018 and 2019 to provide low-income persons with job training and placement in early childhood education careers.
Neighborhood Development Center should receive $1.5 million in 2017 and $750,000 each of the succeeding two years to support small business development for immigrants in suburban communities, for outreach and training in Greater Minnesota, and for the small business incubator program.
Exploited Families Rental Assistance Pilot program will receive $500,000 in 2017 for grants through the Housing Finance Agency for rental assistance to individuals or families with minor children who are at risk of being homeless or have been victims of gender-based violence.
“This is the beginning and not the end,” said Moran. “And one thing we know is that the issues impacting women of color are huge and it’s going to take more than this initial allocation of dollars to solve the entire issue.”
Julia Johnson welcomes reader responses JJohnson@spokesman-recorder.com.