Small and locally-owned businesses in D.C. are facing unprecedented challenges due to COVID-19 shut-downs and the protests that followed. The District’s shutdown required more than 70 percent of small businesses to close their doors resulting in the furlough or unemployment of thousands of employees. As residents and owners look forward to stages of reopening, the fact remains that most of them will stay out of work as their employers, a disproportionate number who are African-American men and women, have shuttered their business indefinitely.
At D.C. Council member Kenyon McDuffie’s Committee on Business and Economic Development budget oversight hearing this week, he listened to a host of small business owners and officials representing the 20-plus Main Street organizations testify about the impact of COVID-19. Many businesses rely on District tax dollars granted to Main Street organizations that provide financial and technical support to sustain some businesses during this period. Main Streets offered small grants to help pay utility bills, rent and payroll expenses that totaled upwards to $70,000 in some communities. These grants were the lifeline to help businesses survive the pandemic and, for some, the destruction which followed by protesters responding to the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
Mr. Floyd’s death alone exposes the reality that inequities exist in nearly every area of life for African Americans. Questions like the one McDuffie asked, “Why are there 21 Main Street organizations in Wards 1 through 6, and only 3 in all of Wards 7 and 8,” demonstrates the blinders that must be removed by local legislators to ensure all communities receive equitable treatment.
We stand with the small and Black-owned business community by strongly encouraging Council member McDuffie to follow through on his pronouncement as soon as possible to conduct a Disparity Study of how, particularly, Black, minority and women-owned businesses are faring regarding government contracting. It’s been more than a year since the DC Black Business Task Force requested such a study. The significant loss of businesses in communities where the impact on employment and economic stability is notable shows why a study is needed now.