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Latino Coalition Policy Summit

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
Latino Coalition Policy Summit
JW Marriott, Washington, D.C.
Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Good afternoon. Thank you for that kind introduction, Hector [Barreto].

Hector served as the SBA Administrator when I was the Secretary of Labor. He is an outstanding leader, and I’m so pleased to be here at his invitation. 

I hope you view the President’s visit as reflection of the importance of your organization and the Latino community. He is focused on ensuring that our economy continues to grow and create new jobs.  And his policies are paying off with accelerated growth, the lowest unemployment rates in years, and increasing  wages for workers.

Let me also acknowledge Anthony Bedell, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs at Department of Transportation, who spoke at the last session. And let me give a shout out to Jean Card – we worked together at the U. S. Department of Labor who now works with Hector and the Latino Coalition.

As you have heard, I am an immigrant to this country. I didn’t get my American citizenship until I was 19 years old. So, helping ensure that the doors of opportunity remain wide open for everyone is especially important to me. That’s why I’m so pleased to be here with you today. You are a community I have great affection because we share similar values and experiences.

Hispanic-Americans today comprise about 18 percent of our country’s population, and growing.   The Hispanic community plays a significant role in shaping our country’s economy, culture and future. I’m especially pleased that today’s forum includes small business owners. Small business employers create 2 out of 3 private sector jobs in our country. Hispanic-owned business employers employ 2.3 million workers. So you are creating jobs and opportunity for others.

As you heard from the President, this Administration is committed to policies that promote economic growth and job creation, especially for the small business community. And, as the President has explained, the new tax cuts are allowing more families and small business owners to keep their hard-earned money. 

In addition, this Administration has made regulatory reform a priority, which has contributed to economic growth by removing unnecessary burdens on job creators – like all of you.  If people want to know how the President’s policies have led to our booming economy, regulatory reform is a good place to start. And it has been done with no reduction in safety, or other congressionally-mandated objectives.

In addition, the Department of Transportation is doing its part to help the Hispanic community succeed in mainstream America. In FY17, DOT awarded more than $47 million to Hispanic-owned small businesses. And because it’s Women’s History Month, let me also mention that in 2017 the Department awarded nearly $4 million to Hispanic women-owned small businesses. So far, in the first quarter of FY18, the Department has already awarded more than $1 million to Hispanic women-owned small businesses, so we are off to a great start!

But we intend to do more. As Secretary of Labor, I held annual Opportunity Conferences to help small businesses in traditionally underserved communities access contracting opportunities in the federal government. I am pleased to announce that we will be kicking off the very first Department of Transportation opportunity conference on May 16, 2018. So, Hector, we will share the details with you as soon as they are finalized. The federal government is a unique entity, and it’s useful for small businesses to learn how to navigate this unique environment.

This afternoon, let me also share with you another initiative that will help strengthen our economy and create new jobs. The Administration has proposed a plan to revitalize and rebuild our nation’s critical infrastructure. Infrastructure is the backbone of our economy, and the key to remaining competitive. The goal of the President’s proposal is to stimulate at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investment, which includes a minimum of $200 billion in direct federal funding. The proposal includes 12 Federal agencies, in addition to transportation, water, energy, broadband and veterans’ hospitals. This can be done with a partnership of federal, state, local and private entities.

Some estimates say our country’s infrastructure needs as much as $4 trillion in investment. It’s not feasible to address these infrastructure needs with only federal government funding or deficit spending. There is no free money—Federal money is your money sent to Washington and returned to you with Federal strings attached. Plus, doing so would adversely impact the private markets, hindering growth and job creation. And we know that the private sector—including small businesses—want to participate.

Our country has the largest and most robust capital markets in the world. Many endowments and private pension funds, for example, want conservative investments like public infrastructure, which have collateral that will not walk away. There are different ways for the private sector to participate and provide alternative forms of financing. But, in many states, private pension and investment funds are restricted in their ability to invest in public infrastructure. The Department recognizes there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and that different regions require different solutions.  So, private sector investment should be an allowable option where appropriate. For example, public-private partnerships are common in places like Australia, England and across Europe.

The guiding principles of the President’s proposal include: 1) use federal dollars as seed money to incentivize infrastructure investment; 2) provide for the needs of rural communities; 3) streamline and speed up project delivery; and, 4) reduce unnecessary and overly burdensome regulations. And as a former Secretary of Labor, I’m pleased to note this plan also has a workforce component, to help workers access the skills needed to build these new projects.

The proposal was sent to Congress on February 12, 2018, and we will be working with them  to revitalize our nation’s infrastructure and prepare for the future. As Hispanic-American leaders, your perspectives and expertise will be valuable as we move forward to help ensure our critical infrastructure meets the needs of every community. 

As our country becomes more diverse, we are learning from one another, appreciating one another’s different cultural heritage and backgrounds. The rich history, culture and contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans is a legacy to be nurtured and cherished. Hispanic leaders in this Administration including U.S. Treasurer Jovita Carranza, Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, and White House senior staff Jennifer Korn and Carlos Rosillo are making such a difference. Latinos are also over-represented in the military and we are so grateful to these brave men and women who defend and protect our country. Latinos are a community on the go. We salute you and thank you for all of your rich contributions to our country.

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Updated: Thursday, March 8, 2018
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