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By Andrea Shalal and Mohammad Zargham
WASHINGTON, Feb 5 (Reuters) - U.S. Treasury Secretary JanetYellen said on Friday that economic crises hit people of colorharder and longer, and the current crisis caused by thecoronavirus pandemic would have a lasting impact on BlackAmericans unless action was taken.
"During the early days of the pandemic African-Americanswere the first to lose their small businesses. They were thefirst to lose their jobs," Yellen said in a virtual meeting sheand Vice President Kamala Harris held with dozens of members ofBlack Chambers of Commerce from around the country.
"And we've seen early data that suggest Black workers willbe the last rehired when the economy opens back up."
Yellen said that was why the Biden administration's $1.9trillion stimulus plan was badly needed "to make sure that thispandemic isn't another generational setback for racial equality,and better yet, to finally start building an economy that worksfor everyone."
She said the package was structured to include grants forsmall businesses, stimulus checks and other measuresspecifically designed to start dismantling longstandinginequities, and that more steps to boost spending oninfrastructure and create new jobs would be announced soon.
Yellen, a former Federal Reserve Board Chair, noted that theaverage white family still had roughly six times the wealth ofthe average Black family - about the same ratio seen before thecivil rights movement of the 1960s.
Harris and Yellen both vowed to fix failures of the Trumpadministration's previous relief efforts through expandedoutreach and the use of "navigators" to help business owners.
The recession has hit women and minorities particularlyhard, with Black-owned businesses closing at twice the rate oftheir white counterparts, and an estimated 82,000 Black womenhaving lost their jobs.
Harris said research had shown that the government programfor lending to small businesses hit by the pandemic had not beenaccessible to many Black-owned businesses partly because theydid not have a relationship with big banks.
Citing persistent and higher unemployment among BlackAmericans in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Yellensaid: "That is what economic crises do: they hit people of colorharder and longer."(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Writing by Mohammad Zargham;Editing by Leslie Adler and Daniel Wallis)