This ugly COVID-19 pandemic has hurt a lot of us. Nothing is the same. Everyday life has been disrupted. Education is nothing like it was before. Jobs have been lost as business has slumped, or disappeared.
In Louisiana, where so much of our economy is tied to gas and oil, entertainment and hospitality, it’s no surprise that so many small businesses are suffering, or even closed. The number of White-owned businesses fell 17% between February and April, according to a University of California-Santa Cruz professor’s study. But Black-owned businesses have been particularly hit hard during this COVID-19 pandemic, according to economics professor Robert Fairlie. Black businesses fell by about 41% in that same period.
The nation established a Paycheck Protection Program to help smaller businesses get through this public health emergency while keeping people employed and limiting the need for unemployment. But the U.S. Small Business Administration’s inspector general has indicated that some minority, rural and female-owned businesses likely didn’t get PPP loans because the established processes and structures didn’t prioritize attention on these types of businesses.
It was disappointing to read how some of our state’s most loved restaurants are hurting as social distancing policies limit seating to 50% capacity indoors and no bar seating. In New Orleans alone, Central City’s Sportsman’s Corner operated at 25% capacity, moved to curbside only, then closed. Treme’s Willie Mae’s Scotch House is getting by, for now, with only takeout meals. Perhaps the most unfortunate news was learning that Wayne Baquet’s Lil Dizzy’s Café reopened after a pandemic-forced closure only to close again, and now it is for sale.
The pandemic has hit Baton Rouge Black businesses hard, too. In a survey, almost 60% of those businesses told the Baton Rouge Area Chamber that they have been hurt. That's far more than the 40% of the Black businesses nationwide saying they were financially damaged.
The virus is challenging businesses, especially Black businesses. The Scotch House is one of the few Black businesses that’s received a PPP loan, and that’s a shame that there were not more. As U.S. Senate and House leaders consider economic stimulus options with the White House, they need to keep in mind Baquet, Stewart and others who operate Black businesses so critical to community backbones and cultures. Though there are reports that White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have had some communication, we don’t expect anything significant to happen right away.
Congressional leaders may be taking a break, but these Black businesses — and they are not alone — are on forced breaks. It’s not vacation. They’re trying to survive. They need congressional help.