Biden highlights progress for Black-owned businesses and lead pipe replacement in Milwaukee visit

By AAMER MADHANI Associated Press

MILWAUKEE (AP) — President Joe Biden toured a Black-owned plumbing company that’s replacing lead pipes, a nationwide initiative that’s been supported by his administration with billions of dollars, during his visit to the battleground state of Wisconsin on Wednesday.

“We appreciate your service to the country,” Rashawn Spivey, head of Hero Plumbing, told Biden. After showing Biden some of their work, Spivey joined him in the presidential vehicle for a ride to the Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce, where Biden is scheduled to speak.

The trip is designed to spotlight a surge in federal government assistance for Black-owned small businesses during Biden’s term and to highlight his administration’s efforts to ramp up investment in distressed communities. The White House is trying to shore up support among Black voters, a critical part of the Democratic coalition, as Biden runs for reelection.

The Small Business Administration in the last fiscal year backed 4,700 loans valued at $1.5 billion to Black-owned businesses. Under Biden, the SBA says it has more than doubled the number and total dollar amount of loans to Black-owned small businesses.

Since 2020, the share of the SBA’s loans going to minority-owned businesses has increased from 23% to over 32%.

Joelle Gamble, deputy director of the White House National Economic Council, said the president’s visit to the Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce will give Biden a chance to show “how Bidenomics is driving a Black small business boom.”

Wisconsin was among the most competitive states in Biden’s 2020 election win over former President Donald Trump and will likely be key to his reelection hopes in 2024. Trump is the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, and the party is hosting its national convention in Milwaukee next year.

In Wisconsin and beyond, Biden is trying to pep up American voters at a time when polls show people are largely dour about his handling of the economy. The president is struggling with poor approval ratings on the economy even as the unemployment rate hovers near historic lows and as inflation has plummeted in little over a year from 9.1% to 3.2%.

The White House said Biden also planned to highlight his administration’s push to replace the nation’s lead water service lines within 10 years, to ensure communities across the country, including Milwaukee, have safe drinking water.

Biden holds out his lead-pipe project as a generation-changing opportunity to reduce brain-damaging exposure to lead in schools, child care centers and more than 9 million U.S. homes that draw water from lead pipes. It’s also an effort that the administration says can help create plenty of good-paying union jobs around the country.

The president’s $1 trillion infrastructure legislation, passed in 2021, includes $15 billion for replacing lead pipes.

Biden is also slated to announce that the Grow Milwaukee Coalition is one of 22 finalists for the Commerce Department’s “Recompete” pilot program, according to the White House. The program is funded by Biden’s CHIPS and Science Act, and is focused on investing $190 million in federal funding in job creation and small business growth in hard-hit U.S. communities.

The Grow Milwaukee Coalition proposal is centered on revitalizing Milwaukee’s 30th Street Industrial Corridor.