More than two dozen Bay Area business and civic leaders recently spent a busy two days in Washington, D.C., with the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce to make their voices heard on issues important to their businesses and our city. Our delegates were on Capitol Hill in the middle of a controversial omnibus bill vote and were able to hear from influential policymakers and elected officials on not only the vote but also the inside scoop on other issues facing the federal government.
The Chamber delegates advocated for San Francisco’s priorities as a united group to our elected officials, including House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Congressman Mark DeSaulnier and Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren. Key topics included the seawall resiliency project, transportation and infrastructure projects like high-speed rail and the importance of investing in federal housing and homelessness assistance resources.
Here are some highlights of our federal priorities that we advocated for on Capitol Hill:
Housing and Community Development: When San Francisco decided in 2014 to use the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rental Assistance Program to transfer public housing buildings to community-oriented developers, they enabled more than 3,500 housing units to undergo substantial repair and preserved them as vital affordable housing. We advocated for Congress to continue the RAD program, and to lift the cap on the number of public housing units that may be privatized. We also emphasized the importance of maintaining HUD’s entitlement programs for housing and community development, which are vital to ongoing affordable housing production and community development, and enable The City to leverage funds to build new affordable housing units.
Jobs and Workforce: We opposed withdrawal from the North American Free Trade Agreement as changes or tariffs on Canada or Mexico could negatively impact our local economies, causing broad-based job losses and reduce foreign investments into California.
Small Business: Preserving funding for San Francisco’s Small Business Development Center, which works with small businesses to grow their companies and increase job creation and economic vitality, was a priority of all members of our delegation, whether from businesses big or small.
Immigration Reform: We support comprehensive immigration reform that addresses our broken immigration system and works to rebuild the American economy. Our laws should work to reunify families and encourage the individuals we train in our world-class institutions to stay and develop new technologies and industries in the U.S. rather than abroad.
Increased Quota for H1-B Visas: To ensure San Francisco continues to be the innovation capital of the world, the federal government should ensure companies have access to highly skilled foreign workers by maintaining or increasing the quota for H1-B visas.
Restored DACA: The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program protects young people brought to the United States before age 16 and allows them to attend school, work, and engage in military service. Ending DACA, as President Donald Trump technically did in September, could have significant workforce and economic impacts, as 87 percent of DACA recipients are employed with American businesses, and 6 percent start their own businesses.
While these are just a few of our top priorities, we have many others including protecting San Francisco’s seawall and Hetch Hetchy water rights, and supporting critical transportation infrastructure projects like High Speed Rail and the Caltrain extension to the Transbay Transit Center.
As Congress and the Trump administration continue to change policy and funding priorities across the country, it is essential that local business and civic leaders connect with key federal lawmakers and agency officials to discuss potential impacts and advocate for clear solutions for The City and the Bay Area.
Tallia Hart is president and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.