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Latina pioneers new role at Treasury Department to advance racial equity

Janis Bowdler, former UnidosUS economic policy director, becomes the first counselor for racial equity to lead efforts serving underrepresented communities at the Treasury Dept.
Jamie Dimon, Janis Bowdler
Janis Bowdler, then-head of community development for global philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase, speaks in Washington in 2015. Kevin Wolf / AP Images for JP Morgan Chase

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has appointed Janis Bowdler, former UnidosUS economic policy director, to a newly created position meant to help advance racial equity efforts within the department.

As the new counselor for racial equity, Bowdler will continue to build off recent work the Treasury Department has done aimed at lifting barriers for underrepresented communities in accessing benefits and opportunities.

Some of the efforts she will be undertaking include improving access to the child tax credit and understanding how Community Development Financial Institutions, or CDFIs, and Minority Depository Institutions can increase access to capital across communities of color, among other efforts.

"Treasury must play a central role in ensuring that as our economy recovers from the pandemic, it recovers in a way that addresses the inequalities that existed long before anyone was infected with Covid-19,” Yellen said in a statement Monday. 

The announcement comes nine months after President Joe Biden signed an executive order urging the federal government to "pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color and others who have been historically underserved."

Following Biden's mandate, the Treasury Department conducted an internal racial equity review and identified the need for a senior official who could both be solely dedicated to advancing racial equity efforts and engaging staff across a wide variety of teams within the department toward that goal, a department official told NBC News.

“I could not be more humbled by the historic opportunity to serve as the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s first Counselor for Racial Equity,” Bowdler, 43, said in a statement Monday.

“I have spent my entire career working in solidarity with Black, Latinx, AAPI, Native communities, and other communities of color to dismantle the structural and institutional racism that perpetuates the racial wealth divide," Bowdler added, using an acronym to refer to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. "Addressing racial and gender disparities and giving underserved communities greater access to opportunities creates more broadly shared prosperity for all."

In her new role, she will also be tasked with creating a racial equity advisory committee that can provide advice and expert counsel to the department's leadership. The committee will include academics, researchers, industry leaders, community-based leaders, advocates and philanthropists.

Bowdler started her career as a case manager with community development organizations in her native Ohio that focused on affordable homeownership and rental opportunities for Black families. 

More recently, she served as president of the JPMorgan Chase & Co. Foundation, playing a critical role in developing its incremental $30 billion racial equity commitment, according to the Treasury Department and launching initiatives to expand access to capital for entrepreneurs of color and improving access to banking products and services for underserved communities.

Before that, Bowdler spent 10 years at UnidosUS, the largest national Latino civil rights and advocacy organization, focused on advocacy regarding economic mobility, including retirement security, housing, banking, community development, consumer protection and job creation.

She has provided analysis in congressional testimonies on how harmful lending practices unfairly target Latino families with low credit ratings.

Bowdler has authored several publications on financial opportunity and economic mobility, including “Building Equitable Cities: How to Drive Economic Mobility and Regional Growth,” which she co-authored with Henry Cisneros and Jeff Lubell.

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