Op-EdOpinion

CUNNINGHAM: The Fierce Urgency of Now

This week, we have a chance to make a difference in a second federal stimulus package now under discussion in Washington — if we act now. In the last package, the multitrillion-dollar CARES Act intended to help struggling small businesses, many Black-owned businesses were left out. That’s because the CARES Act requires business owners to have existing relationships with banks. Most Black-owned businesses don’t have those relationships. What they have are triple the denials for loans that banks give to non-minority businesses. Last year, 2.6 million Black-owned businesses generated $150 billion in revenue and supported 3.56 million jobs. Yet the Republican Senate stubbornly pushes back on Democrats’ insistence to target economic relief to those who need it most, including Black-owned businesses, in the second aid package now being negotiated.

There is fierce urgency to take a stand. Despite the horrible plague of coronavirus, and the plagues of loneliness and separation, we need not be hopeless. Within our collective vulnerability is a collective strength. We need to apply pressure on our senators to see us, hear us, listen to us when we say don’t overlook us again.

Gary L. Cunningham
Gary L. Cunningham

Businesses are the beating heart of any community. The 2018 U.S. Mayors report noted that small Black-owned businesses have twelve times the growth and wealth of many non-minority small businesses and that Black women-led firms grew by 74 percent in the past decade. Until they were shuttered, most of these businesses were thriving. They deserve to be recognized in the second federal aid package, and to benefit from it. Congressional Democrats would not rubber-stamp the Senate’s second aid package as it stands because once again Black-owned businesses were orphaned. We need to help Congress in its fight to channel some of the $125 billion to minority-owned small businesses and nonprofits. This may be our last chance to resurrect the businesses that propel growth and stability in our neighborhoods.

How to do it? Letters. Emails. Visit ProsperityNow.org/Take-Action to find and write your representatives. Republican senators especially need to hear our message.

What to say: Channel stimulus money to black-owned businesses through community-based financial institutions. Why? They have stepped in where banks have stepped aside. Many Black business owners have relied on locally based Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) that operate in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. These organizations dispense capital and financial counsel in neighborhoods they know well. They have previously helped our communities revive from other national disasters including the 2008 recession and Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Federal funds targeted to Black-owned businesses and delivered via CDFIs would be fast, efficient vehicle to revive our economic engine now one virus away from financial ruin.

America’s economic free fall finds African Americans plummeting without a parachute. We live in communities already suffering from a viral Angel of Death that claims 40% of its grim toll on Black lives, though we are but 13 percent of the population. Pew Research says our young people comprise half of all 16-to-24-year-olds who work in service industries, now shuttered. We have endured food deserts, cyber deserts. We cannot endure having federal help orphan Black-owned businesses again. Congressional Democrats fighting for us need our help to stand with them.

Write that email or postcard today. The organization I lead is partnering with two other organizations focused on directing more capital to black businesses and communities. The Expanding Black Business Credit Initiative and the African-American Alliance of 35 Black CDFI CEOs stand ready to funnel funds and advice to Black-owned businesses unable to get bank loans. These partners, along with Prosperity Now, are calling on legislators to recognize their responsibility to address our underserved communities. Join us. Each of us needs to lean in and demand that the Senate accede to Congressional Democrats in their call for an aid package that embraces our needs. In these desperate times if we are not for ourselves, who will be?

Cunningham is president and CEO of Prosperity Now, a national nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., focused on financial security for all Americans.

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