Small Business

Bob Johnson says Biden’s Build Back Better bill needs to direct money to Black-owned businesses

BET founder Bob Johnson told CNBC on Tuesday the Biden Administration needs to take additional steps in its Build Back Better plan to tackle the wealth gap between Black and white Americans.

“What I look at is, what can you do to increase Black wealth? And that means you got to put more capital at the disposal of Black business men and women who want to create jobs, create wealth, create growth opportunities,” Johnson said. “That’s what was missing in the Build Back Better Act.”

Johnson, 75, made history as America’s first Black billionaire when he sold BET to Viacom in 2001. Shortly after the sale, he started the investment firm The RLJ Cos. He’s no longer on the Forbes billionaires list.

As a thought leader in the Black community, Johnson last year said that Black History Month — in February each year — should focus more on future opportunities.

In Tuesday’s interview on “Squawk Box,” Johnson said the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better bill “was never targeted to how do you close the Black wealth gap.” It also fails to implement provisions that would be cost-free yet still help Black Americans accumulate savings, he added.

The outspoken entrepreneur has criticized Democrats and Republicans alike for not doing enough to address enduring inequities for Black Americans. In 2020, he called for $14 trillion of reparations for slavery and suggested Black Americans form their own political party.

Car affordability, for example, would dramatically reduce the 401(k) cash-outs that Black Americans have to make when they change jobs, Johnson told CNBC. Mandating all companies to implement auto affordability would over a generation put more than $1 billion of into Black Americans’ retirement savings, he added.

“Closing the Black wealth gap is not a job. It’s not giving us more consumption money to spend. It’s giving us more access to wealth sustainability,” Johnson said. 

The Build Back Better plan stalled in December after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he wouldn’t vote for the bill, which needs every Senate Democrats’ support to become signed into law. The legislation has already passed the House. Biden recently said he plans to break up the bill to first pass spending of more than $500 billion to tackle climate change.

Johnson has also rallied for Congress to enact the Better Opportunity and Outcomes for Socially Disadvantaged Talent, or BOOST, Act, calling it Tuesday the “most significant way to direct capital to Black businesses. 

The bill proposes to provide $30 billion to companies that invest in businesses owned by people of color, and give tax deductions to those who eventually sold their shares in those businesses once they became valuable.

Johnson also said he’s put his advocacy for reparations on the backburner, saying that neither side of the political aisle has offered strong support for the idea.

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