The small business assistance programs by the District and the federal government have gotten mixed reviews from some business owners, who say the programs are well-meaning but too complicated in their application processes.
The D.C. Council, along with the support of Mayor Muriel Bowser, supported the creation of the DC Small Business Recovery Microgrants Program in March to help small businesses, nonprofits, the self-employed and independent contractors remain operational while the District grapples with the COVID-19 crisis. The microgrants program awards up to $25,000 per business.
The funds from the microgrants program don’t have to be repaid, according to the District’s coronavirus website. D.C. Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Planning John Falcicchio told The Informer that the recipients will be notified later this month.
Derek Davis, co-owner of Davis Barber and Beauty Service in Ward 8, said he tried to apply for the microgrants programs through its website but had no success.
“I tried three times to fill out an application for the microgrants and I had real problems,” Davis said. “I tried to create passwords to get into the system and that didn’t work and ultimately the system kicked me out. The website had technical glitches that I couldn’t deal with.
“After the third time, I just stopped dealing with it. I found the process to be cumbersome and confusing.”
Davis, who has served as president of the National Barber Boards of America and chairman of the D.C. Barber & Cosmetology Board, said the process puzzles him.
“They want information from me such as past year’s tax returns and business papers,” he said. “But the District government already has that in their system so I don’t understand why they want me to resubmit it. All I should have to do is to give basic information that has been updated and the application should proceed from there.”
Angela Thompson, a manager for The Players’ Lounge, also in Ward 8, agreed with Davis that the application process had problems.
“To me, it was tedious but when they made revisions, I was able to complete the application,” said Thompson, whose parents co-founded the restaurant and lounge decades ago and it has served nearly every District mayor, many council members and national personalities such as the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Thompson talked of waiting anxiously to find out whether The Players’ Lounge got the grant.
“We definitely need the money,” she said. “Sales have slowed down since the mayor’s stay at home orders but we have our regular customers who are supported us. We are hanging in there so far.”
Davis has shuttered his business by order of Bowser ordering nonessentials businesses such as barbershops and beauty salons to cease operations indefinitely.
The D.C. Department of Local and Small Business Development works with the microgrants program. When asked to comment on the program’s glitches, its director, Kristi Whitfield, released a statement to The Informer.
“The Department of Small and Local Business Development alongside Mayor Bowser continue to work with and support the District’s small and local business community during this challenging time,” the statement in part said. “We will continue to identify and implement programs and initiatives that further support the recovery of our business community.”
Small businesses in the District are also eligible for federal programs administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the Economic Injury Disaster Loan and Emergency Loan Advance, SBA Express Bridge Loans and SBA Debt Relief. The congressional passage of the CARES Act created the PPP that provides loan forgiveness for small businesses retaining employees through the pandemic.
On April 16, the SBA announced that the funds for the PPP and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan programs had been spent.
Both Davis and Thompson said they knew very little about the programs and didn’t apply for them.
“Right now, I am going to wait until the mayor lifts the ban on nonessentials businesses,” Davis said. “I don’t need the Paycheck Protection Program because my barbers are applying for unemployment and I am fine because I am a retired government employee. I will sure be glad when this is over so we can get back to work, though.”