Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., is calling on five major U.S. banks to provide updates on the racial equity pledges they announced after the surge in Black Lives Matter activism in 2020.
In letters sent Wednesday to the CEOs of JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, U.S. Bancorp and Wells Fargo, Pressley asked for a “comprehensive financial audit report,” including data, plans and policy changes related to their commitments, by Oct. 23.
“Whether you’re talking about redlining or denying credit for Black homebuyers and entrepreneurs, or closing brick-and-mortar banks in Black communities, Black folks have historically been denied opportunities to grow wealth, to achieve financial prosperity,” Pressley told NBC News.
“The harm was very precise. The work of restorative justice, of racial justice, of justice for Black Americans, has to be just as precise,” she said.
Representatives for the five banks didn’t immediately comment.
Of the pledges Pressley cited, JPMorgan’s was by far the largest. Its $30 billion commitment over five years, announced in October 2020, included expanded housing programs and small-business lending, along with increasing workforce diversity efforts. In a February 2022 update, the bank said it had already committed or deployed $13 billion of that sum, financed 60,000 affordable housing and rental units and approved $1 billion in lending to build or redevelop affordable homes, among other steps.
Citi and Bank of America each pledged $1 billion, with the latter expanding its effort to $1.25 billion in March 2021. Last September, Wells Fargo announced a racial equity audit of programs, including a $420 million fund for diverse small-business owners, and USBancorp-owned U.S. Bank committed $116 million in June 2020 to address racial and economic disparities.
Nodding to the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington on Monday, Pressley told the bank chiefs, “It is critical that your financial power is used to rectify the wrongdoing and heal the very communities harmed by the historical and contemporary role that institutions such as yours have played and continue to play in perpetuating racial inequities.”
Pressley, a Democrat who sits on the Financial Services Committee, acknowledged that her push for greater transparency has limited teeth in a Republican-led House.
“I’m not going into this with contingency plans. You have to first just lay it out there,” she said, adding that she believes the banks “will be responsive. They want to be on the right side of history.”
Divided government in Washington is set to last at least until after the November 2024 election, and there are already sharp partisan disagreements over the private sector’s role in effecting social change. Some of the GOP presidential candidates gathering for a primary debate Wednesday night have honed their political profiles by opposing corporate efforts they deride as “woke” meddling in cultural issues.
Pressley’s effort comes in a tumultuous year for the U.S. financial sector. Ongoing shakiness among small and midsize banks has generally played to Wall Street titans’ favor, and some minority-focused lenders are straining to serve their communities. Rising interest rates and other market headwinds have dented Black-led banks’ historic growth of recent years, NBC News has reported, and many are digging deep to preserve their momentum.
While Pressley called on like-minded lawmakers to join her effort, she said: “I’m currently governing under the context of a Congress that has an ‘Anti-Woke’ Caucus. I’m not in denial about that. That is why it is critical that we be just as vigilant, just as unrelenting.”
“No days off, because they’re not taking any,” she said.