As 2019 begins, there is also a new Congress with leadership in the House of Representatives that makes history for people of color and women alike.

Long-time Rep. Nancy Pelosi (CA-12) returns as Speaker of the House – the first time in 50 years that a Member of Congress has achieved this feat. On a gender note, Speaker Pelosi becomes the most powerful woman on Capitol Hill and the only female in the nation’s history to do so.

There’s also another key woman and legislator that is making history. Rep. Maxine Waters (CA-43) is now the first Black and the first woman to chair the powerful House Financial Services Committee. Having served on this committee since 1995, and its Ranking Member in the previous Congress, Waters will set the committee’s agenda in key areas affecting the economy, banking, housing, insurance and securities.

The House Financial Services Committee oversees the activities and responsibilities for major financial regulators, agencies, and the nation’s central bank, the Federal Reserve. These agencies include but are not limited to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation – that insures monies in depository institutions, as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission that is charged with maintaining fair and efficient investment markets. 

In other words, the fiery and bold Black lawmaker who earned a reputation for challenging Wall Street and major lenders during the housing crisis will now set the direction for a range of financial players, regulators, and institutions. From monetary policy to the production and distribution of currency, and expanding financial access to affordable housing options, a progressive and principled committee chair is running the show. She is also expected to set standards of performance that level the financial playing field and hold lenders accountable when they take advantage of consumers or discriminate in their lending.   

With the right kind of regulation and committee oversight, the nation may be able to change financial trends that have worsened both racial and gender wealth gaps.

For example, a December 2018 report by the Asset Funder’s Network analyzed racial and gender disparities in wealth and found that Black and Latina women have “lost substantial amounts of wealth in the last two decades”.

From 2007 to 2016, Black women ages 45-65 years had a 74 percent drop in median wealth, compared to that of White women who experienced a 28 percent drop. Further, the Asset Funders Network concluded the median “quasi-liquid” savings for single Black and Latina women aged 45-50 was $0.

Earlier in 2017 the Federal Reserve found that nearly 1 in 5 black families have zero or negative net worth — twice the rate of white families. Additionally the median net worth of Black families was one-tenth of that held by White families.

Charlene Crowell is the deputy director of communications for the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.