Ben Chilli Bowl, an iconic Washington D.C. diner, was going to close its doors. It did not receive a loan under Payment Protection Plan (PPP), the government scheme to help small businesses.
In a tweet, then Sen. Kamala Harris, (D-CA) noted, “@benschilibowl is a DC icon I used to eat at during my @HowardU days. It’s outrageous small businesses like Ben’s Chili Bowl aren’t getting the kind of relief the president’s friends are getting. Congress must prioritize helping minority-owned businesses.”
Virginia Ali, the 86-year old matriarch and co-founder of Chilli Bowl shared her difficult experience at a panel discussion on how small businesses could emerge from this crisis, during an Ethnic Media Services briefing on May 28.
After being shut out of the initial round of forgivable federal loans, the Ali family, owners of Ben’s Chili Bowl, applied again. They finally did get Paycheck Protection Program assistance.
“Most small businesses do look at federal programs, similar to SBA, but what they should be aware of is that each state has programs as well, such as the State Small Businesses Credit Initiative which has 600 percent more funds in it than it had the last time. The program has been tweaked to ensure small businesses even those with weaker credit profiles will now get help, he said.
The American Rescue Bill had roughly 350 billion dollars that went out to individuals in states and counties and cities with 200,000+ in population sizes. That money, in this moment, while we are reopening, represents capital that can be catalytic.
“It is extremely important that the small business owner, one, looks at advocacy work to see where the money is going and who it is going out to; two, talks to their economic development in the cities to find their programs; and three, most importantly APPLY!,” said Sands.
“What we have learnt from the pandemic is that most opportunities come a second time. If you look at PPP it has come up a third time. We are into the third iteration of the program to ensure that some of the smaller small businesses now have access to capital,” said Sands. It is therefore important that businesses apply.
Congressman Ro Khanna, D-California. Rep. Khanna, a member of the Congressional Small Business Caucus, reiterated the importance of making sure that the money is distributed to small businesses and not default to big bank customers.
“Establishments with under 25 employees like local restaurants, dry cleaners and nail salons are small businesses,” said Khanna. “Secondly, the distribution of monies should keep racial and gender diversity in mind,” he said.
PPP helped small businesses stay afloat with low-interest loans. A $2.2-trillion economic relief measure, it was signed into law in March 2020, during the first pandemic surge. It was conceived as a loan program that could be forgiven entirely if borrowers met certain conditions involving retaining employees.
In 2020 and 2021, Lendistry provided Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to small businesses in all 50 states and was selected by the State of California to administer the California Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Program, which distributed grants to small businesses that lost significant revenues during the pandemic.
Mom-and-pop Main Street America can emerge from this crisis and admired the resilience of the small business owner, agreed panellists. The key characteristic of a small business owner is that they never give up. They urged small business owners to apply for government help.
“For amounts less than $150,000, most of the red tape or the bureaucratic process of a loan has been cleared away,” Sands explained. “They must apply for help even if they don’t know the information, even if they get it wrong.”
Ritu Marwah is an award winning author whose story Jinnah’s Daughter, featured in the New York Times’s Express Tribune blog, exemplifies her deep interest and understanding of history and the place of people in it.