Politics

Congress pressed to rescue struggling Black-owned businesses

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As a huge proportion of Black-owned businesses are forced to close, “what wealth is there now to transfer on?” said Gary Hoover, editor of the Journal of Economics, Race, and Policy and an economics professor at the University of Oklahoma. “I’ve got a higher unemployment rate in this community. Now I’ve got lower property values in this community. I’ve got less wealth in this community. Things are just continual.”

Advocates argue that the Paycheck Protection Program failed to fully address the problem, in part because it was structured to favor borrowers who have ongoing ties to banks, which businesses owned by people of color are less likely to have.

“We got off to a bad start for the underserved communities,” Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate Small Business Committee, said in an interview.

Montee Holland, president and CEO of a high-fashion dress suit brand called the Tayion Collection, said he was initially rejected for a PPP loan and then struggled to get approved for another.

The Michigan-based designer said he has managed to pay his rent and bills by selling the suits he had in stock directly to consumers online. But without assistance or a major change in the retail landscape, he expects to be able to last only six to eight more months.

“To say that it’s been tough is the understatement of the century,” he said.

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Congress has tried to close the gaps, but advocates say more can be done.

After overwhelming demand for the Paycheck Protection Program exhausted its initial funding by mid-April, Congress passed a second, $320 billion appropriation that set aside money for the smallest lenders. Some of those funds went to lenders whose mission is working with disadvantaged communities.

In response to calls to target the funding even further, the Trump administration allocated $10 billion for so-called community development financial institutions, which focus on low-income areas.

And just days before the Paycheck Protection Program was set to close to applications — Congress has since agreed to extend it — the Trump administration loosened some restrictions on borrowers with criminal records after facing lawsuits and political pressure from Democrats and Republicans.

The last-minute change gave Altimont Wilks time to secure a loan to help his businesses in Hagerstown, Md. A federal judge last week ordered the Small Business Administration to reserve funding for Wilks once the program shut down. Wilks was initially barred from the program because of a 2004 felony conviction.

“You hear the stories, but to live it, to be that ‘African American disadvantaged minority business owner’ — imagine being that disadvantaged owner with a criminal record, during a time when unemployment is going sky high not just for African Americans but for everyone,” Wilks said in an interview.

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Economists have criticized the time it took to make the funds more widely available, saying some minority-owned businesses could not survive long enough even to apply for the second round of aid.

“Just the weeks that went by between those time periods could be the difference between the life and death of a business,” said Henry McKoy, director of entrepreneurship at North Carolina Central University’s business school.

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