Scott Responds to Democrat Efforts to Destroy Opportunity

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) released the statement below following the introduction of two Democratic bills, introduced by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Congressman Jim Clyburn (D-SC), that would hurt low-income communities across the country by limiting the effectiveness of Opportunity Zones.

Senator Scott said, “This is the second misguided attempt by Congressional Democrats in the last two weeks to wreck the Opportunity Zone initiative under the guise of ‘improvement.’ Make no mistake, Congressman Clyburn’s legislation, which is very similar to a bill introduced by Senator Wyden in the Senate last week, will needlessly punish low-income communities who are hoping to use Opportunity Zones to transform areas left behind. Estimates show as high as $63 billion can already be expected to be utilized in zones across the country; with a poverty rate averaging 29 percent in the 8,700 zones across the nation, the potential these dollars hold for these communities is clear in terms of jobs, technology, infrastructure and so many other possible uses.

From our initial research, we can already tell these two bills would at the very least sunset:

  • Multiple zones with a child poverty rate above 30 percent
  • Multiple zones with general poverty rates above 25 percent, some where the poverty rate is double their statewide average
  • At least one zone with a senior poverty rate above 40 percent
  • A zone where African-Americans comprise 20 percent of the community and have median household income of $16,000 a year

While certain, mainly Democratic, Governors across the country chose their states zones in a way I do not agree with, taking a broad brush and sunsetting opportunity for hundreds of communities across the country at once is unacceptable. More than 96 percent of the total zones did not show any signs of gentrification at the time they were nominated, yet Mr. Clyburn, Mr. Wyden and their Democratic colleagues seem keen to ignore this fact. This shows that my colleagues across the aisle have failed to truly study and understand Opportunity Zones as a whole, and are seeking to damage the program for purely partisan reasons.

Another example of the failures of their bills is they would list ‘health centers’ as a sin business, which excludes them from eligibility in the initiative. What does that mean? It could ban any sort of workout facility, which potentially means YMCAs or after-school programs based around physical education. This is absolutely egregious, as we should be looking for ways to help improve the health of folks living in zones, where the average life expectancy is three years shorter than the national average and the average obesity rate is significantly higher than the national average. Yet again, we are left with the impression that those writing these bills simply have failed to understand both the complexities of improving opportunity in low-income communities and the goals of the Opportunity Zones initiative in the first place.

I stand ready to improve the Opportunity Zones initiative in a positive way with anyone who wants to work together. Senator Booker and I have already introduced a bill that would include important reporting requirements; the legislation introduced today does not even mention reporting requirements once. Instead of trying to take down Opportunity Zones because of their distaste for President Trump and our successful tax reform package, I invite Democrats to come to the table and work together on a path forward. A bipartisan group of mayors from across the country, including Columbia’s Steve Benjamin, have come out in full-throated support of Opportunity Zones, because they know the potential they hold for their communities. The past 50 years of fighting poverty through government-led programs has been largely ineffective, so let’s make sure the next 50 are powered by efforts that will work.”