Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Black Business Association Calls RI’s Disparity Report ‘Disappointing and Painful’

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The study, first authorized by then-Gov. Gina Raimondo, was commissioned to examine the agency’s “procurement activities for any evidence of discrimination in the award of contracts to available minority and women-owned enterprises.” The Disparity Study, conducted by Mason Tillman Associates and released by the Office of Diversity, Equity & Opportunity (ODEO), found evidence of discrimination in the state agency’s contracting with minority or women-owned businesses.

Because of the evidence of discrimination found, the group says it is calling on the state to enforce the Minority Business Enterprise law, which carries out the state’s policy of “supporting the fullest possible participation of firms owned and controlled by minorities and women (MBE’s) in state-funded and state-directed public construction programs and projects and in state purchases of goods and services. This includes assisting MBE’s throughout the life of contracts in which they participate.”

RIBBA says the study’s release came eight months after it was completed and “cost a hefty $499,029 of taxpayers’ money.”

RIBBA claims in the 35 years since the law was enacted, the state has only complied with its own law two times: once in 2018 and again in 2019.  

“The Advocacy and Policy Committee has studied the disparity report produced by the ODEO, and while the results are not surprising and reflect the gap we work to fill, the data is disappointing and painful to see,” RIBBA’s Advocacy & Policy Committee said in a statement.

The committee said while the report looks at data from 2014 to 2017, current economic trends show the treatment of MBE and WBEs “has not received the systemic changes it desperately desires.”

“With the untimely and tragic death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter Movement, Rhode Island went through the symbolic process of denouncing systemic racism and inequities by officially changing our name last year – that is not enough,” the statement read.

The report also notes state agencies did not maintain comprehensive data on subcontracts awarded by prime contractors, so extensive research had to be done and reconstructed by the consultant that conducted the study.

“Rhode Island must rid itself of the vestiges of structural and systemic racism and inequality by taking actionable steps to ensure an equitable economy for Black and brown Rhode Islanders,” the statement continued. “There is a great opportunity within this data, and the Rhode Island Black Business Association looks forward to being a trusted part of the solution.”

In a news release, RIBBA said based on the findings, it believes the state failed to maintain the required data to measure the effectiveness and compliance of the law, and also failed in its support of Black- and minority-owned business owners.

The association says it’s issuing a call to action to stakeholders, including “elected officials, public and private sector entities, and civic leaders to make this a real turning point in closing skills and opportunity gaps disproportionately affecting Black Americans and communities of color in Rhode Island.”

RIBBA and its supporters have identified several solutions in addition to the recommendations cited in the disparity study:

Establish a Contract Compliance office outside of government to monitor and enforce compliance to MBE commitments Mandate when a prime contractor fails to meet the goal of awarding 10% of the prime contract to a M/WBE, that prime contractor must submit good faith documentation indicating efforts to engage and hire minorities or women, a requirement existing as far back as 1996 Investigate complaints of non-compliance and develop corrective action plans as needed Implementation of MBE/WBE tracking of comprehensive data on the subcontracts awarded by the prime contractors Increase the government procurement participation goal for Black and Latino contractors to reflect the increased minority population in RI The state must set up, and financially assist organizations that provide support to Black businesses so that they too can grow and thrive Issue an Executive order to establish preference in state contracts where Black and brown people are the predominant group to be served or when contracts are cited within a neighborhood where the population is 20% or more minority  Commit at least 20% of funding to economic development in Black and brown communities Intentionally work with organizations led by Black and Latino leaders Increase loan funds available through Black and Latino organizations Establish clear lines of authority to the office of the Attorney General or other legal entity to ensure enforcement Implement a Pay Audit System to be used by Prime Vendors and their Subcontractors to independently report payments from Prime Vendors to the Subcontractors on state contracts.  

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