Many black-owned small businesses are having trouble accessing the government’s emergency Paycheck Protection Program loans, despite a fresh round of CARES Act funding that includes $60 billion in set-asides for minority and other underserved borrowers.
The coronavirus loan program, executed by the Small Business Administration, offers up to $10 million in loans per customer that can turn into grants that don’t have to be repaid if certain rules are followed, such as using most of it for payroll, plus rent and utilities.
The program has been marred by administrative glitches and controversies since its hasty midnight launch on April 2. Funds effectively ran out in minutes as well-resourced companies — with the help of their bankers — muscled their way to the front, while mom-and-pop businesses were left wondering whether they even had a place in line.
Despite good intentions, the government’s emergency relief program leaves many feeling left behind. Black business leaders say the small-business programs need to do more to reach underserved borrowers.
“I hear a lot about making America great again. In order to have a great America, there has to be a great black America. In order to have that, we need great black businesses. We need access to capital,” said Ron Busby, president of U.S. Black Chambers, which advocates for African American businesses and chambers of commerce.
Despite good intentions, the government’s emergency relief program leaves many feeling left behind.
While the new set-asides are one step, some program rules leave out a large number of “community-development funding institutions” that could participate (the government maintains a searchable database of certified institutions here). There also needs to be funding for training and education in how to apply for the programs, Busby said.
Baltimore café owner Terence Dickson is desperately calling everyone he knows for some kind of help with his relief applications. He’s down to his last few hundred dollars in the personal savings account he’s been using to pay his staff. He has tried Bank of America, with which he has a business checking account; his personal bank; politicians who have used his café for campaign events; and even the Maryland lieutenant governor’s office.
“The financial industry has shown me no love for 20 years,” he said of his challenges qualifying for traditional bank loans. But he feels this program should be different. “It’s our goddamn money. It’s taxpayer money.”
At his Terra Cafe, a community-focused restaurant offering Southern comfort and soul food, along with an arts and events space, Dickson has been trying to pivot with the times since the coronavirus pandemic took hold. He’s increased delivery operations and tried to get the hang of Instagram and social media marketing, but sales have still plummeted.
Dickson is well aware of the numerous other programs besides PPP, such as the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, another type of relief offered through the SBA, as well as state, local and philanthropic grants. But neither he nor his fellow business owners in the “Black Wall Street” of Baltimore have had any success.
“I’m tired of hearing about the money. I want to see the money,” Dickson said.
Following inquiries from NBC News, Bank of America discovered that Dickson’s PPP application didn’t appear in the system, and it added him in.
(Article was first published here.)