Congresswoman Joyce Beatty represents the 3rd District of Ohio and serves on the House Committee on Financial Services and is a member of two Subcommittees: Housing and Insurance and Oversight and Investigations. We were honored to speak with her about financial literacy, owning a business, and her experience as the first female Democratic House Leader in Ohio’s history.
You introduced the Housing Financial Literacy Act of 2017, which is a bill designed to increase first-time homebuyers’ financial knowledge and reduce mortgage payments. Are you able to speak to how you came to this resolution regarding the need for this bill, and how do you think it will help people become homeowners?
I serve on the financial services committee and one of the sub committees is housing and insurance. I have a long history of working with young folks, working families, and middle class families all around housing. For several years, I was a housing consultant, and one of the things I saw firsthand was there were a number of families, especially a lot of single women, who wanted to buy a house but they had no idea about mortgage rates and interest rates and we saw a lot of people who lost their homes as a result. We know that buying a home is one of the largest financial undertakings for most Americans and can be overwhelming for them. As I worked with these people, I asked them, “what are some of the things that will be helpful for you?” and one of the things they brought up was that it would be important to take a class where and learn more about home ownership and financial knowledge. I’ve introduced financial literacy bills before, so it was a combination of wanting people to feel comfortable being in a home and to make sure that they had the financial literacy information that they needed. So, I thought, let’s put it together. Let’s say for first time homeowners who are buying a home, if they take a class, which are offered at several places throughout communities, for example, the Urban League offers it, they’ll get an incentive. They would get 0.25% off their mortgage insurance premium, so for me, it was a win-win. Learn more about how to buy and maintain your home financially – and everyone likes getting a reduction on something.
Prior to joining Congress, you were the First Female Democratic house Leader in Ohio’s History. Could you briefly discuss your experience as the first democratic leader? What were some of the struggles you had to overcome and persevered through?
Part of the struggle that I faced was something that I couldn’t change, and that was that I was a woman. Probably my biggest obstacle was when I announced that I wanted to run, and there were five of us running, one female and four guys. I realized early on that I had to make people comfortable that I could do it. Make them comfortable as a female that I would travel to 88 counties in Ohio. I had to have a stronger plan and I had to be more forceful because it was very difficult. You know, this was several years ago and we had never had a female as the democratic house leader. And I am a double minority; I am female and I am African American and that was new so there was a lot of doubt across the board. Probably the most difficult thing for me starting out was that there were some women who were not with me because they were afraid. I actually had a couple women say, “I really want to be with you, but when you lose, they will punish me for being with you.” They had already predetermined that I was going to lose and I think that made me work harder.
I like calling myself a strategic planner and someone who does all these teaching moments that you learn from. So, I started talking to myself more, developing my strategy, putting together a financial plan that doubled what anyone else had ever done. Then, I set my goal not only to be the leader, but to do something that had not been done before – in addition to being a woman, that was to take the majority back. Once I started putting it into a plan, I was giving speeches and getting people to know me. I was sitting down and writing financial plans and taking call times and raising money. I think for me, the experience of getting there was one that many women face. Whether it’s the only female in a job, or it’s starting your own business, the struggles oftentimes when you’re a first, that’s the struggle in itself, being a woman and convincing people you can do it. You know they always say, if a woman is strong, she’s aggressive. That the same descriptors for a female don’t apply to a man. So I had to be very sensitive to my reactions because I didn’t control how people responded to them.
Let me end by saying my experience was phenomenal. Being the first and having other women asking me to tell my story and being able to mentor other women. I always say, being the first is not always great unless you can say there was a second, and a third, and a fourth. So part of my success was to share my story and to mentor other women so they too could go on and be leaders. Whether it be in a caucus, or owning their own business, or being a college president or a principle in a school. Just being able to work on a goal that you have and to achieve that goal is very rewarding. It was satisfying because I was very victorious. It also gives me something to reflect back on and use those same skills that I brought to Congress. For the first time in Ohio’s history we have three women who are members of Congress. And we have for the first time in history two African American women.
As an advocate for women business owners, what is some advice you would give for who want to become business owners, but aren’t sure how to create economic opportunities for themselves?
I think it’s very important for them to map out their strategy and their plan. I’m a big dreamer so I tell people: always try to realize your dreams, but you have to work on it. When I decided I wanted to have my own company, I realized you can’t just say it one day and then the next day go hang your sign and say you’re the owner of a small business. I would tell women who want to become business owners that it requires a lot of planning and resources – both human and financial resources. I would tell them to spend time talking to other successful business owners and see what their hurdles are because they should study businesses that are similar to theirs. Competition is very good. I would tell them that they have to understand that they’re going to sacrifice. So often people say “I want to own my own business because I’m tired of working hard in my job,” well, I’ve got news for you – owning your own business is like being the boss and the employee, and the person who cleans the office, and the human resource officer all in one when you first open it. Even traditionally, people who have owned small businesses that turned into franchises or major corporations, when you talk to them, they’ll tell you when they first started they had a very lean staff, or often it’s just them. You have to recognize that you have to grow, and sacrifice, and work hard. It’s like planting a seed; you watch it month after month and all of a sudden you see the stem, and the day that it blooms is one of the most exciting days of your life.