Congresswoman Frederica Wilson

The coronavirus has come down on our nation’s economy like a sledgehammer and many small businesses may never recover from the impact. This is particularly true for Black-owned businesses.

Earlier this month, congress authorized $7 billion for small business disaster loans, but as with many government programs and processes, bureaucratic red-tape has slowed the process. which in turn pushes businesses desperate for a lifeline deeper in the red.

Many of the small businesses in my district are minority-owned. They still have to pay rent and their employees’ health insurance premiums during this slow period.

One business owner is paying his employees who are stuck at home because their children’s schools have closed. He has hired temporary workers to replace them until they can return to work. This business owner is not sure how much longer he can continue to do that and would greatly benefit from an SBA bridge loan, which are being provided for up to $50,000, to help business-owners like him keep their head above water.

While some of the larger, Black-owned small businesses can benefit from SBA loans, there are many more that cannot afford to take on new debt even at an exceptionally low interest rate. In response, the Congressional Black Caucus has called for government-backed, interest-free loans to businesses, entrepreneurs, nonprofits and independent contractors to cover operating expenses and payroll needs.

Still, piling on new debt could be catastrophic for some small business owners and if they default, for any reason, they would lose everything they’ve worked for, including their homes.

We are asking for $50 billion in SBA grants, which will particularly benefit mom-and-pop type enterprises like hair salons and barber shops, small restaurants and corner stores, daycare centers, dry cleaners and other businesses that provide much-needed goods and services in our communities. We are also calling for a rebate for 100 percent of payroll taxes paid by small businesses this year and a rebate of 200 percent of payroll taxes paid by small businesses in hot spots.

The final stimulus package must also provide relief to our nation’s 125,000-plus airport contract workers, including those at Miami International Airport. It would be unconscionable for congress to leave them out. They are on the frontlines fighting the spread of the coronavirus through our aviation system. We must have their back.

These and other steps will not only help businesses, but these initiatives will also help their employees.

My heart breaks each day when I hear about the thousands of layoffs that businesses, big and small, have had to make. This pandemic has created a vicious cycle: when businesses are forced to let go of workers, other businesses suffer the ramifications as well because the people who’ve lost their jobs can’t afford to buy anything but the basics. These measures place the kind of small businesses I’ve been talking about even more at risk of closure.

Another issue I’m very concerned about is the U.S. Census Bureau count. In the best of times, people just throw the forms away.

But in 2010, Black and brown children were undercounted at more than twice the rate of white children, which means they are not getting their fair share of resources. The census determines the annual flow of more than $675 billion in federal dollars for essential programs, including childcare, special education, early childhood education programs, Head Start, foster care, SNAP and WIC, Title I grants, and so much more.

Each year, black communities lose billions in federal dollars for housing, education, transportation and health care because of that undercount. We have got to do everything we can to ensure that doesn’t happen again.

The Census Bureau hired scores of people to go door-to-door and collect data, but because of the coronavirus, that’s no longer an option. I believe the agency should give the money it would have used to pay door knockers to CBC members to pay for “Robo calls” and hold tele-conferences in our districts that urge people to fill out the forms.

The other day, I ended a conference call with billionaire business owners with a reminder that they must fill out their census forms. Most of them said they’d forgotten all about the census. The Black community cannot afford to forget about the decennial census. When the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, we will need every available dime we can access to recover.

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