Tag Archives: #smallbusiness

A Tale of Two Sumi(s) – When COVID19 Flatlined the Desi Beauty Business

Sumi Patel opened Sumi Beauty in 2007 and ran a thriving cosmetology business

Sumi Beauty Salon in Mountain View

on El Camino in Mountain View for more than 13 years. A single mom with two children, Sumi built a steady stream of customers seeking beauty treatments designed with desi clientele in mind. On offer were services like threading, waxing, skincare, and facials, as well as special heritage henna treatments and make-up for brides to be.  Her salon was popular.

“I’ve been going here for over a year and have always been so pleased with the results! The women who work here….both do great jobs at the Indian beauty salon,” says a testimonial on her website.

As Sumi’s clients became regulars, she hired an aesthetician to help with the increased workload.

And then the pandemic hit. On March 15, 2020, Sumi Beauty shut down as Governor Gavin Newsom’s pandemic regulations were enforced, flatlining Sumi Patel’s source of livelihood.

In Southern California, Sumita Batra, the CEO of a successful, family-run chain of beauty studios called Ziba Beauty, made a tough decision even before Newsom issued his statewide lockdown orders. She shuttered all 14 branches of her stores and laid off her entire team of 144 employees so they could file for unemployment benefits. Batra used her personal savings to fund their final paychecks and to keep her business afloat.

Threading service at Ziba Beauty

As the pandemic placed communities of color under siege, minority-owned small businesses like the ones run by Sumi Patel and Sumita Batra were among the hardest hit.

While workers of color were impacted by job losses, women’s job losses were significantly higher than men’s, reported Chad Stone, Chief Economist at The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), at an ethnic media press briefing on March 12. Stone co-authored a study which found that “Workers born abroad, especially women, were more likely to work in the industries hit hardest by the pandemic and have suffered disproportionate job losses.”

For both Sumi(s), the impact of losing a lifetime of work was devastating.

Ziba Beauty had been in business for 33 years since it first opened shop in Artesia, CA.  It had served more than forty-five thousand customers out of its 14 studios. Batra describes the experience of closing her stores as going “into a complete meltdown.” Losing her business felt “like losing a family member.”

Sumita Batra, CEO, Ziba Beauty

Batra applied for PPP funds “using every contact in her book and everything in her power,” but it still took several weeks to arrive.

In Mountain View, Patel negotiated a deal with her landlord to pay a lower rental rate to tide her over the pandemic and applied for a loan from the Paycheck Protection program for Small Businesses.

“But my business is very small, so I did not get that much,” said Patel, who had to let her aesthetician go.

One year after the pandemic hit, the business has dwindled at Sumi Beauty. Before the pandemic, Patel would see at up to 20 to 25 customers a day. “Today, I saw one person,” she notes, after which she waited for 3 hours for a walk-in customer. Customers aren’t calling to make appointments Patel added. She does not understand why.  On weekends, business picks up a little. “Maybe I’ll have 4 or 5 customers.”

Her salon can only accommodate one person at a time, as pandemic restrictions are still in place.

She briefly reopened last year when restrictions were lifted before shutting down again as infections rose. “My business is reduced to only 10% of what it was before the pandemic. We’re not back to 100 %. This whole year has been very hard.”

Ziba Beauty remained closed, announcing that its priority was the safety of customers and employees.

In March 2021 Biden signed off on the ‘American Rescue Plan Act’ -a  $1.9 Trillion COVID Relief Bill which the CBPP predicts will help millions and bolster the economy.

Chad Stone reports that the coronavirus relief package and its new round of stimulus payments are aimed at “getting the virus under control,” so that life can get back to normal, reducing the levels of hardship many Americans have endured over the past year, and which has been particularly acute among people of color and immigrants.” It will provide a stimulus for an economic recovery that had stalled “only halfway back to full employment,” he added.

But the Congressional Budget Office projects that the economy won’t return to its full potential until 2025. Today’s labor market, says the CBPP analysis, is much weaker than the headline numbers suggest.

According to the CBPP, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell recently testified that “The economic recovery remains uneven and far from complete, and the path ahead is highly uncertain. . . . There is a long way to go.”

Sumi Batra agrees.

“Touch services coming back too soon will be one of the things that end up spreading COVID.”

At the risk of losing her 33-year-old brand after shutting down last year, Batra was adamant that she would not reopen until it was safe to do so. “I’m not going to feel comfortable opening up my stores and risking my team as well as my customers.”

Touch services like threading operate in ‘intimate spaces’ says Batra, where aesthetician and client sit in close contact. So a ‘phased opening is the right approach’ because a threading artist works differently from a hairdresser.

Unlike e-commerce companies, touch service industries need a phased reopening to facilitate a safe recovery post pandemic. Batra is calling for a separate stimulus for the beauty and nail industries, and suggests they need to come together to create a recovery plan that will ensure the safety of practitioners and clients.

Sumi Patel says though her salon now is fully open her customers are ‘scared to come back,’ even though she has implemented health and safety changes. When threading eyebrows on a customer, for example, she wears a mask and anchors the thread around her neck instead of holding it in her mouth, which is the traditional technique. She attributes the drop in clients to the fact that many of her customers from the IT industry, may not need beauty services now that many work from home, do not socialize, or travel.

At Ziba Beauty which has gradually reopened about 6 stores, Batra is using  PPE and stringent safety measures. At the start of each day, each studio is thoroughly sterilized by a UVC robot, and bookings, payments, check-in and check out are contactless.

For Sumi Patel who has two kids to support, the loss of income has been a challenge

“Right now it’s a tough time. My only hope is that my business will come back – I hope.”


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents.

Anjana Nagarajan Butaney contributed to this report.


 

Gurukool Waits to Open Its Doors to Students

Madhavi Prabha, a teacher with a vision, quit her regular teaching job after 10 years to start an After School Education Center for cultural enrichment, GuruKool, in 2018. An immigrant to this country and unfamiliar with the government system, her entrepreneurial spirit was met with red-tape. Frequently redirected from city to county to state regulations and guidelines, she was unsure if her idea would ever come to fruition.

After many queries, online searches, legal procedures, and authorizations, Madhavi began to recruit students for her classes. Her first class began with just one student, Anvika, who imbibed the education with glee. She learned Indian mythology, shlokas, Hindi, singing, dancing, and art. It proved the need for education derived from one’s culture. Slowly but steadily, GuruKool began to pick up traction and by 2019, Madhavi had a waiting list for her After School Education Center. Things were looking up and the business began to recoup the losses of its first year.

Then the pandemic hit…

Education Week reported that 6 out of 10 After School programs across the U.S. may have to permanently close their doors. After School programs, a valuable service, are finding it hard to adapt. GuruKool has had to stop its program and attempt digital, online learning.

Madhavi says, “Teaching the kids online is hard. I struggle with technology at times and the kids get bored. In person, I don’t just teach them visually but through sounds and physical actions which don’t come across on a screen. Its harder to keep them engaged and I worry they will forget what they’ve already learned. This is the time they need to remain engaged.”

Madhavi Prabha is less concerned about her business and more about her students – a teacher through and through. She asks her students how they feel during the pandemic – unable to go to school and interact with their friends. Children will grow up with the pandemic in their historical narrative and how they interact with it will determine parts of their future. What is the younger generation thinking and feeling? Madhavi guides her students through a series of questions to explore their emotions and understanding of the world around them.

Here are some of the student’s reactions:

Anvika Bhatnagar, 3rd Grade

Anvika’s Thoughts

On COVID…

I feel sad that people are dying and COVID-19 is spreading so fast. It is also not fun to stay home and get bored because there is not much to do.

Being at home…

I really like being home with my family because my family and I do a lot of fun things like playing games and doing crafts. I also enjoy playing with my brother and not having to do so much school work.

Being online…

When I do something online, I feel safe and happy I am talking to my friends and that no one is catching a virus at that time.

When the pandemic ends…

I would want to for a long trip and see cool animals and have a long playdate or sleepover with my friends.

Given power…

What I would do is I would fly up the sky and sprinkle some potion that will kill Coronavirus and I will go to the spot where scientist try and figure out how to deal with the pandemic. I will give them a potion that will make dead people alive and again and if you give it to sick patients they will get to normal in a second.

Aarav Saraswat, 4th Grade

Aarav’s Thoughts

On COVID…

I feel that this pandemic is not fun for a lot of people. You can’t meet other people in person, you can’t really play with a lot of people and you can’t really get out of the house. And it is not easy for parents either. They have to do their work, and now they have to cook for the whole family and they have to get a lot of groceries and they have to take care of everyone the whole day. But this lockdown is also very important because no one wants to get COVID-19, so I’m actually feeling good that we are in a lockdown from the health perspective.

Being at home…

Sometimes it is fun to be at home with my family but sometimes it can be a problem. For example, if I was playing outside then it would be fun because I can play with my brother and parents. But if that same day I am doing my work, but my brother is doing something noisy and I’m trying to concentrate, then it can be kind of hard having everyone home.

Being online…

Online schooling and zoom contact is good for me because that is one of the only ways to contact people, and that is something we all want to do; see people besides your family like friends! but sometimes you can get a little bored of that.

When the pandemic ends…

The first thing I would like to do when this pandemic is over is to go and meet all of my friends. I want to meet every single one because I have been isolated for 10 weeks now, which is 2 ½ months. S0 after I meet all of my friends I would play with water balloons and water guns because it is so hot. 

Given power…

If I had the power to change this situation, one idea which I would like is that we have a staggered schedule meaning that we go to school for example two hours and the rest of the schooling we do at our homes. And as things get better, we can slowly extend the amount of people coming to the school.


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

Lockdown Diary of an Indian Dance Teacher

Like other performance artists, dancers and dance instructors depend on human interaction to convey their artistry to their audience. COVID situation presents unique challenges for dance instructors. Most dance teachers have had to replace their studio-based classes with online sessions, in line with the “stay-at-home” state guidelines. As they move their classes online, they are finding innovative ways to keep their audience and students engaged. 

I am an Indian dance instructor based in the Greater Seattle area, teaching Bharatanatyam and Bollywood dance. As I have transitioned my classes to Zoom, it has been somewhat of a challenge due to various technical issues, as you can imagine.

Some funny moments arise from online classes:

Recently I have noticed a funny development…

My students were performing their mudras (hand motions) while chanting Sanskrit shlokas. As most of my younger students are US-born and lack fluency in their native tongues, I take time after each class to make them practice both the mudras and their accompanying shlokas. I teach my classes on a laptop connected to a large flat screen tv, with the sound ramped up. My daughters join me for some of the classes too and we perform together. 

My husband, who is an IT professional, sometimes sits and works in the adjacent kitchen area while I take classes. It seems that our shloka recitations have started affecting him too, as I can hear him repeating the mudras with us as we practice. During one of my online classes, I remember quizzing my students. “What is this mudra?”, I asked. “Kartarimukhaha” (a scissors shaped hand gesture), chipped my husband before the student could answer. The students and parents attending the call broke out laughing. He keeps humming these shlokas as he works around the house these days. I successfully implanted the Shloka bug in him finally after 16 years of our marriage during lockdown!

Pet dog “Sugar” was Aleyssa’s “horsey” during her online Indian classical dance class

In another incident, two adorable sisters, Aleyssa(8) and Ameyssa (5), were in the middle of their online Bharatanatyam class, working on a movement called “Araimandi” (a half-sitting posture where the dancer creates a typical diamond shape with her legs).  As Alyessa was practicing, her Labradoodle, Sugar, decided to run through her legs. She took it in stride and exclaimed that Sugar was her “Horsey!” So, in the middle of our class, there was my student, Aleyssa, riding atop her dog Sugar, like a princess on her horse! This ended when her 5-year-old sister, Ameyssa, came and held sugar’s ears and finally managed to stop her. Usually, an online session is very stressful for both teacher and student, but this incident made me laugh and brought in a much-needed bit of joy in this pandemic crazy homestay.

I am also inspired on a regular basis by my adult students. Most of them have kids at home and have to squeeze out time out of their daily schedules to attend classes. 

Pallabi tries to learn Indian classical dance online with her two active daughters running around her.

My student, Pallabi, has two active girls aged 4 and 7. Normally, when Pallabi would attend Bharatanatyam class, her daughters would play at the church nursery or at the park. After I moved the classes online, Pallabi decided to continue attending the online sessions. One day she was learning a complicated travel and sidestep, where she was trying to create a V shape on the ground with her feet, and as she danced, both her little girls were using that V-shape as a zig-zag path to run around. 

How she learned that complicated step amidst all the chaos that was going on at her home, is beyond me. This is funny as well motivating too, as it shows that if we are resolute in our focus, no chaos can be considered as an excuse.

I have also started teaching Bollywood dance lessons. I am currently teaching a sequence of Warrior queens from Period Bollywood musicals. For these lessons, students need to use props as swords. We were about to order these props and distribute them to the students but the lockdown came about before I could hand them over. However, the energy and positivity of my senior students came to the rescue. They decided to meet online and finish learning that sequence. For the prop swords, they turned to whatever they could get their hands upon in their respective homes. One took a rolling pin from the kitchen, another picked up her husband’s cricket game stick. Someone else picked up her kid’s toy arrow from a bow and arrow set, and another person grabbed a Jedi’s sword from her son’s desk.

Different dance props are chosen from around the home.

I am blessed to have these passionate people in my life. When I moved my classes online, I offered a discounted fee structure. However, all my students waived off these discounts and they pay the full fee amounts as they all think that more labor and prep time is involved in teaching online classes. I decided to contribute some of these earnings to other artistic communities, as a way of giving back.

Theatres, auditoriums, and other dance studios shut down across the country in response to COVID-19. Many studios are quickly exploring the option of teaching classes online. Many non-profit studios are asking for donations to help them stay afloat. Being a freelance Indian dance instructor with a decent IT job, I decided to donate online dance earnings to a dance studio named “Da Vinci”, which always provided space to people like us to continue our passion.

As the world continues an uncertain battle against the invisible COVID-19 virus, performing art communities worldwide have been among the first to be affected due to restrictions on public gatherings and concerts. The virtual world is flooded today with free offerings of all kinds of art, movies, museum tours, music festivals, dance concerts, music festivals, to keep up the morale of the world as it copes with the lockdown and the cultural climate. As a society, we need to help the arts survive as it helps with inner healing.

Piyali Biswas De is an accomplished Bharatnatyam and Non-classical dance exponent, guru, and well-known choreographer in the Greater Seattle region. When she is not dancing, Piyali works as an IT professional in Seattle and spends time with two beautiful daughters who seem eager to follow in her footsteps. 

An Open Letter to Hoteliers

“Tough times never last but tough people do” – Rev. Robert H. Schuller

In these tough times, Prince Organization, run by fellow Indian Sunil Tolani, has stepped up and applauded his hotel staff for their work on the frontlines. Frontline staff encompasses a multitude of industries, yet hotel staff seem to be lost in the bevy of healthcare-related professions. Here is an open letter to those in the hotel industry, providing a safe space for the homeless, vulnerable, and sick populations, for little to no compensation. Thank you for all that you do!

Dearest Prince Organization Team/ Hoteliers,

I hope this message finds you healthy and safe during these trying times of dealing with fundamental uncertainty. For the first time in modern history, the world is at the mercy of a virus that knows no rank and no title. The world is united in our shared experience of pain. But during all this sorrow, I really believe the entire world is also united in a shared prayer praying for relief and going through something that is globally profound.

We live in unprecedented times when, for the first time in over 100 years, the country is almost shutdown. Over 275 Million Americans are at home. Times like these tests one’s spirit and fortitude as those of us that are in the hospitality industry face challenges we have never seen before. We have managed through the recession of 2008-2010 but this is unlike any economic enemy we have dealt with in the past. This health crisis has created an economic catastrophe of historic magnitude. We are in a deep freeze and it is bone-chilling. The US was on a good roll and then came March.   

At LAX airport on January 21st, I heard the morning news of the first coronavirus case in the U.S. and the first words were “Oh, No—Holy Cow,” March began with a booming economy riding an 11-year economic expansion with unemployment at 50 years low and the #1 worry for employers was finding employees to fill positions. The Dow Jones was flirting with 30000.

March 3rd, the federal government announced an emergency rate cut. March ended, ravaging personal and professional lives, bringing the economy to a standstill. A new reality was gripping the nation: 10 million jobs were lost, the Dow at 21917, airlines on the verge of bankruptcy and American icons of commerce shutting down, and countless small enterprises failing.

As of this weekend, over 20,000 Americans were dead with the toll expected to increase exponentially in the coming weeks. Retail centers and malls, restaurants, gyms, parks, schools and universities, places of Vice and Worships, and millions of other “nonessential” businesses shut down, movie theaters dark, professional sports suspended, and the Olympics postponed. A couple of months ago, we were afraid if we saw somebody with a mask on, now we are afraid if they do not have the mask on. The buzzwords were communal, sharing, and now the word is social distancing.

The nation has made a call to us Hoteliers, essential businesses, to remain open. On the frontlines, you are doing a fantastic service to the country. You agreed on “what can we do to help here” driven by your faith and sense of duty preparing for the worst-case scenario but hoping for the best-case scenario dodging the coronavirus bullet. THANK YOU for doing your part in supporting your community. Providing medical and emergency personnel with FREE rooms and at deeply discounted rates to keep your hotels humming along with positivity. Unlike others, we did not shut down or walk away nor cut fast and cut deep. The communities value and admire your commitment and dedication.

We are grateful for the bravery and sacrifices of our hotel staffs, women are over 70% majority. We are not doctors, nurses, firefighters, or policemen but like them, we too are on the front lines to help and offer comfort and solace, shelter at the hotels. It is way economical and makes total financial sense to shut down our hotels, but we are open for our communities, keeping our neighborhoods running and making our guests feel like home. The pandemic has dramatically enlivened our company’s workforce. The word is proud. We feel enormously proud of what we are doing.

Hotels are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. We are a symbol of our people’s resilience, as we never close. This is a very unsettling time – both physically and emotionally. We are concerned about our health and that of our family, friends, and co-workers. We are uncertain of when this will end and what the future will look like. We are also uneasy because in hospitality what we do is take care of guests and we are virtually unable to do that now with limited services. We do our best as we dig deep within ourselves and muster all the perseverance and grit, we can. We must continue to live our values of being humble, caring, and kind, and apply them to our new circumstances and to the team members. Every day you are at your Hotels, you contribute with pride and purpose. 

The devastation that coronavirus has rained on the world, from a business perspective, is something we have never experienced. Local restrictions combined with the nearly complete drop in business levels require the temporary suspension of brand standards at many of our hotels franchised hotels. The financial loss to continue to operate these hotels will be anyone’s guess and extremely severe to cause even more damage to the company long-term. While there is much uncertainty remaining on how long our lives and business will be disrupted and what the recovery will look like, we do know the economic hit to the company will be significant. That is why we are taking aggressive steps to manage controllable expenses limiting operations and managing expenses as well.

We are making the tough decisions needed to weather the storm that is wreaking havoc on our country by waiting longer to pay suppliers, shutting down floors, saving electricity and utilities, ordering in limited supplies, and re-evaluating capital investments. These decisions do not come easily, but it is our belief that by making these decisions now it will allow us to be properly positioned for recovery after the war on this enemy is won. Almost every variable is changing and the disastrous negative impact on our business in so many ways cannot yet be fully quantified. Simply put, we need to watch our cash management as we did not budget for a close to a zero-revenue scenario.

Of course, none of the excellence, passion, and grit in the face of the adversity brought on by the virus surprised me. That is simply our character, and the pressure we already deal with on a day to- day basis not only reveals it; it forged it. Through the sheer power of our perseverance and with our collective character as a guiding light, that is exactly what we will continue to do as long as it aligns with our three North Stars — the health and safety of all team members and our valued guests.

Thankfully, we are not aware of any of our team members who have contracted the virus. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who are experiencing the virus themselves or who have family or friends with it. I am grateful we have no cases of this insidious disease. We will see this through. One lesson from the virus is the realization of how connected we all are. While we find ourselves physically separated from each other, it is with a sense of community that we will meet these challenges and overcome them. We will continue to care for each other, and when people start to travel again — and they will — we will do what we do best — welcome them like family. Treat them like family, Once again.

We could not be any prouder of the character, generosity, and resilience exhibited by our team members over the last four weeks. Let us pray and look forward with positivity to a day where Coronavirus is a distant memory, a day when our hotels are filled with traveling guests and your break rooms are filled with laughter.

Dear heroes of the frontlines – continue to be strong, positive, and kind. Our spirit will prevail. History tells us that we will survive. Let us pray, stay calm, and stay true to our true values to weather the storm. I can feel the purpose-driven nature, the camaraderie, and the coming together of our company. You are playing a vital role with government employees, social workers, medical workers who are coming into your towns to stay with you and depend on your hotels. I have come across many noble acts of public service that you are performing at your hotels. Your true character reveals for what you are and have always been: HERO’s. 

I am foregoing my entire salary for the rest of 2020 and even 2021. In a time of crisis, we have to transcend and come together for the greater good. Please continue to take care of yourselves and your loved ones. The journey is painful and we hope in the years to come, you will be testing the limits of a new world, as each and every one of you will be able to take pride in how you responded to this crisis. I am hanging in there with you all, PRAYING.

Sunil Tolani

Sunil “Sunny” Tolani is the CEO of Prince Organization. His passions include charity, empowering youth with educational and vocational training, humanitarian work on sexual harassment and domestic violence, prison reform, wage equality for women, and LGBT rights.

They Found A Way To Say I Do

The owner of Silver Spoon, Vidya Gurikar, listened in horror as Governor Gavin Newsom effectively shut California down. Her son’s wedding, set for April 18th, was exactly a month away. The threat of cancellation now hung in the air. Her son, Shreyas, whose wedding it was, worked in the business with her, a small business that – wait for it – catered weddings.

As a high-end gourmet catering company, Silver Spoon faced cancellation of all client celebratory events. The company must pivot if they have to survive.

Vidya stepped up her takeout business. Their small business had a mortgage on the commercial kitchen to pay, and staff to keep employed. Spring harvest celebrations like Ugadi and Gudi Padwa have prescribed sweets and dishes. Client orders poured in. Vidya took to scouring grocery stores very early in the morning to gather ingredients, sometimes going to five different grocery stores to cook one takeout menu. Shreyas’ wedding had still not been canceled. March threatened to roll into April and the end of the shutdown was not in sight.

Congress passed the CARES Act on March 27 promising small businesses like Silver Spoon some reprieve. Potentially forgivable loans were available at low rates of interest. However very few saw the money before the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was exhausted. Crowdsourced database COVID Loan Tracker showed that only about 5 (or five percent) of those who applied for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan say they’ve received one. Less than 9 percent of the Protection Payment Plan monies went to the small businesses in food services.

Distribution of Protection Payment Plan

Funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, the federal government’s big initiative to aid small businesses and their employees during the coronavirus lockdown, ran out of cash within two weeks of funds opening on April 3.

On Friday, April 17, at a Zoom briefing update on the Pandemic Impact on Ethnic Populations organized by Ethnic Media Services and sponsored by the Blue Shield of California Foundation—Congressman Ro Khanna, who represents California’s 17th District in the heart of the Silicon Valley high-tech hub where Silver Spoon’s customers live, spoke of the need to increase help to small businesses and workers in essential businesses. “In an age of automation, we are reminded of the dignity and importance of work that is not remote,” said Representative Khanna.

“This crisis needs to open our eyes to the value of workers who are often invisible, and we need to give them the pay and benefits they deserve.” Along with United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Khanna has made a proposal for an Essential Workers Bill of Rights to protect frontline workers during the coronavirus pandemic. They have requested that the next coronavirus relief package to pass Congress must include the policies in the Essential Workers Bill of Rights.

Congressman Khanna and Representative Tim Ryan from Ohio, also have introduced the Emergency Money for the People Act to provide additional cash payments for hard-working Americans who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The one-time payment under the CARES Act does not provide nearly enough support for American families like Vidya Gurikar’s.

There are a number of undocumented workers working in the food industry. Panelists at the EMS briefing feared that undocumented workers, who have long been understood to be a backbone of the California restaurant industry, will receive no relief if they have no social security number.

Regardless of their immigration status, workers should be helped said Assemblymember David Chiu. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) will provide $125 million in stimulus checks to undocumented workers. The PUA benefits are payable if you don’t qualify for regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits in California or another state, and also do not qualify for State Disability Insurance or Paid Family Leave benefits.

California will give 150,000 undocumented adults a one-time cash benefit of $500 each with a cap of $1,000 per household. Undocumented workers, who are not eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or unemployment insurance due to their immigration status, form nearly 10 percent of California’s workforce, said Governor Newsom. They are “overrepresented” in sectors that have been deemed essential such as healthcare, agriculture and food services, manufacturing and logistics.

Since the pandemic hit California, other grassroots financial assistance programs have been created for undocumented workers affected by COVID-19-related job losses in San Francisco and Sonoma County. A relief fund for local migrant youth was launched in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, and Alameda counties, and recently reopened its application process.

The question that remains unanswered though is how does an undocumented worker get the monies. This is not yet clear. The state’s funds will be dispersed through regional nonprofits who have experience serving undocumented communities, and personal information from undocumented workers will not be required.

Vidya and her son Shreyas have decided to go ahead with the planned wedding. It will be a quiet ceremony in the backyard.

Orange flowers, traditional color for a Hindu wedding, festoon the metal pagoda set up beneath the tall pine tree. Fragrance of the peach-tree blossoms drops down onto the blades of lemongrass. Mint shoots sparkle green. Wooden figures playing traditional musical instruments line up under the tree, guests at the family-only garden wedding.

The bride, resplendent in a red saree, looks worriedly at the images of her parents’ Zoomed in from India. The groom, handsome in a long golden sherwani coat adjusts the turban on his forehead as he sits on an orange and black chair beneath a curtain of marigold-orange flowers. Flowers, red, yellow and orange, sway in the breeze. It is a celestial wedding remarked a guest in India later that day, when she saw the photographs.

Outside the house, colorful sweets peep out of the windows of the red sweet boxes nestled under the cherry tree. Yellow mango burfi fudge, white milk balls with black crispy crusts soaking in sugar syrup, a caviar of fragrant, sweet chickpea boondi droplets, a cloud of white, milky sweetness, encased in a pillow of white rasgulla cheese sponge, – the sweets are for the friends of Silver Spoon.

Armed with bells and Bluetooth speakers that blast out celebratory music, masked friends of Silver Spoon and its owners drive by waving to the newly married couple who appear at the door, flanked by the groom’s parents. Standing six feet apart, some friends break into a spontaneous dance.

Resilience is the hallmark of the immigrant. In the face of all odds, pirouetting small businesses will spin to the post-corona economy’s dance-tune. Governor Gavin Newsome, Congressman Ro Khanna – you are invited to join the dance.

Ritu Marwah is a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.

Where Is My Economic Impact Payment?

The radio crackled alive as the lines were opened to listeners. Radio show host, Raman Dhillion fielded queries from perturbed truck drivers and their families with assurance. In the front line on the war against COVID-19, the truck drivers who drive along long lonely roads to keep the essential supplies stocked during the coronavirus outbreak were anxious. What perturbed them today was not just the fear of contracting the virus but the danger of economic penury. Closed businesses and industries along with no freight at docks have seen truck drivers lose money and sleep; and worse, the rates being paid to truckers are below pre coronavirus times.

To provide economic life support to small business owners, independent contractors and workers, just like the ones on the other end of Raman Dhillon’s phone line, Congress passed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act). The questions being volleyed at the radio host were about how they could benefit from the Act.How can I find out if I am eligible to get funds and how do I go about it?

Anxious questions came fast and furious from people like Bhupinder Singh, an owner-operator or someone who owns the truck he drives; Chandan, who drives a truck for someone else, and Mansi who owns a food business.

Of the more than 3.6 million truck drivers, LA Times estimates that tens of thousands trace their ancestry to India. Raman Dhillon who heads the North American Punjabi Trucking Association (NAPTA) estimates that 30% of California’s trucking industry is run by them.

The importance of keeping the truck drivers in business is clearer now than ever as essential goods need to reach the shelves of health establishments and grocery stores. Truckers need capital or liquidity to keep their wheels turning.

The Where Is My Economic Impact Payment app to be released by Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) on 17th April promises to address their questions.Additionally the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service’s new web tool, for people who don’t need to file taxes, available April 17th will allow them to register for Economic Impact Payments. (They should look for  Non-filers: Enter Payment Info Here on IRS.gov. to go directly to the tool.)

At a press briefing organized by Ethnic Media Services on 8th April, IRS Information Deputy Commissioner, Sunita Lough explained what the workers like Chandan Kumar, independent operators/contractors like Bhupinder Singh and small business owners like Mansi Tiwari could expect.

Chandan Kumar Is An Employee. How Can He Get Funds?

Chandan delivers foodservice products for Saladinos of Fresno to restaurants like Subway, Round Table Pizza, Pizza Factory, Hometown Buffet, Yogurtland etc. As Shelter in Place hit California Chandan’s expenses went up and the number of paid work hours went down. At truck-stops where earlier you could get free coffee if you carried your own cup he now has to pay full price for coffee as they must use disposable cups. Food places are shut or they close early.

Chandan does deliveries really early in the morning wearing disposable vinyl gloves and carrying a sanitizer. Paid for every mile he drives, his income has reduced. Some customers like Subway, though open for business, have plummeting sales; others like Hometown Buffet are closed.

People eligible for unemployment benefits, according to IRS Information Deputy Commissioner, Sunita Lough, include , “Workers who have lost their jobs or have reduced hours of working as shelter-in-place orders are implemented will receive payments. Everyone with a valid Social Security number is eligible to receive the one-time full $1,200 payment and up to $500 for each qualifying child.

Chandan who has two children, has an adjusted gross income that falls within the prescribed salary range of: income up to $75,000 for individuals, $112,500 for heads of household and up to $150,000 for married couples filing joint returns. He is eligible to receive this one time payment of $2,200, but his wife who files a return as a dependent will not get any compensation in her own right.

Filers with income exceeding $99,000 and $198,000 for joint filers with no children are not eligible. Chandan does not fall in that range.

Chandan filed his taxes for 2018, though he is yet to file them for 2019. The IRS will automatically deposit the payment to his bank account provided he has his direct deposit details on file. The IRS says he does not need to take any action. In order to receive an economic impact payment as quickly as possible, direct deposit works faster than a check in the mail.

Chandan’s parents, who receive Social Security, and in the past have not been required to file a tax return, will also receive the money. The Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service’s new web tool available April 17th will allow them to register for Economic Impact Payments. (They should look for  Non-filers: Enter Payment Info Here on IRS.gov. to go directly to the tool.)

Deputy Commissioner Lough warned of telephone scams and phishing attacks asking for bank accounts and social security numbers. “The IRS does not call and say that,” she said.

Additionally, if Chandan files for unemployment benefits because of his reduced income he will get much more than he normally would have. Under the plan, eligible workers will get an extra $600 per week on top of their state benefit. The maximum weekly state benefit in California is $450. If you are unemployed, partly unemployed or unable to work because your employer closed down, you’re covered under the bill. All eligible workers will get an additional 13 weeks over the state benefits (26 weeks of California) of unemployment through the state’s Employment Development Department.

Part-time workers are eligible for the additional $600 weekly benefit.

If his employer didn’t lay him off but heaven forbid, Chandan has to quit because of a quarantine recommended by a healthcare provider, or if his child’s daycare is closed and he is the primary caregiver, he is covered.
On the other hand Chandan can’t quit his job of his own volition and expect to be paid. If he fears that his job as a truck driver exposes him to the virus and he would like to stop working, he becomes ineligible for unemployment benefits.

Chandan also needs to file his taxes with a social security number. If he files his taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) he would not get any benefits even if his spouse has a social security number. Everyone in the household would be denied access to the cash assistance.

Bhupinder Singh Is An Independent Contractor. What Can He Get?

Bhupinder Singh, as owner operator of his own truck, is out of luck. Mr. Powell of KP Trucking and Transport feels owner-operator truckers that form a bulk of the industry, are going to be the worst hit by the economic crisis. “They operate on the smallest profit margin. They are so busy day-to-day trying to make ends meet that owner-operators don’t have time to gauge the market, forecast financials and be more creative in generating income. They operate at the lowest rate available just to make sure they have work at all. This group is likely to go out of business. They are already stretching to make payments and are at the mercy of others to keep the business going,” he feels.

“Operating costs are high. The equipment costs are high and they are expensive to repair. It is a hard job. The trucker is on the road 16 hours of the day, and spends the weekend maintaining his truck,” Powell said.
The CARES Act has expanded unemployment benefits to include independent operators/contractors like Bhupinder Singh who weren’t previously covered by unemployment insurance, such as self-employed, temporary workers, part-time workers, freelancers, contract workers, and gig economy workers. The IRS will use the information on their Form SSA-1099 or Form RRB-1099 to make Economic Impact Payments to them of benefits as per their forms.

Singh has a choice to file as a self-employed individual, independent contractor or a small business entity. If he applies for unemployment benefits he will also likely be asked whether he can telework with pay, in which case he would have been ineligible. But as a truck driver he really can’t work from home.

But self-employed folks like Singh, including sole proprietors, and individual contractors working full-time, part-time or other status, are eligible for two types of loans -The Payment Protection Plan (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EDIL). They could apply for the PPP, starting April 10, 2020, through banks insured by FDIC, credit unions or farm credit systems. Here is a list of approved SBA lenders.

Mansi Tiwari Is A Small Business Owner. What Can She Get?

Balvinder Singh Saini and Mansi Tiwari run Punjabi Dhaba, a roadside eatery that serves Indian food, in Bakersfield, California. At the end of their long journey, truckers stop to refuel, shower and eat at truck stops with diesel stations and facilities. Roadside eateries like Punjabi Dhaba serving Indian food are becoming more and more visible along major routes. They are mostly mom-and-pop shops run with skeletal staff. Hot lentil daal soup with whole wheat roti bread awaits the tired trucker in normal times. But these are not normal times and all eateries are shut.

Small business owners like Mansi with bills to pay, are the worst hit. They don’t want to lay off or furlough their employees, especially cooks that are hard to rehire, but they have mortgage, rent and utilities to pay.

To help small business owners retain their employees and stem the tide of unemployment, the CARES Act offers the Payment Protection Plan (PPP), while another option is the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EDIL), that goes into action when a state of emergency is declared. .

Under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), small business owners can apply to banks for eight weeks of cash-flow assistance to maintain payroll during the emergency. No personal guarantee is needed. The loan size would equal 250% of an average employer’s average monthly payroll, with a maximum amount of $10 million and maximum interest rate of 4%. The loan is due in 2 years and carries a 0.50% fixed interest rate. Loan payments will be deferred for 6 months, and the program will be available retroactively from February 15, 2020 enabling employers to rehire any recently furloughed or laid off employees.

There is a possibility that this loan may be forgiven. If the Punjabi Dhaba keeps the same number of employees for the next 8 weeks, even with some reduced pay, the loans may be forgivable as long as 75 % of the loan is spent on payroll. Payroll costs are capped at $100K per employee, annualized. Then Mansi can use the rest 25% of the loan towards payment of mortgage, rent and utilities. It can also be used to pay interest on debt obligations incurred before March 1, 2020.

She will have to apply to have her loan forgiven with documentation verifying how the money was spent. For the portion of the loan that is not forgiven, the rate and term charged would be 1 % fixed for 2 years.

Places like the Punjabi Dhaba and similar small businesses and sole proprietorships can apply for loans through their banks, starting April 3, 2020,from a list of approved SBA lenders.

Unfortunately, with a large number of businesses applying for loans some lending institutions like Wells Fargo are dithering – they are not obligated to and may be unwilling to loan, and the sheer volume of applicants is creating a delay in processing loans. . The SBA is under pressure and responses may take 3 to 4 weeks. So small businesses may have to be patient and settle for just an acknowledgement of receipt of their application for the moment…They can submit the Paycheck Protection Program loan application by June 30, 2020; however interest will continue to accrue over this period.

Mansi can also apply for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EDIL) for up to $2M over a 30 year term. EDIL Interest Rates are at 3.75% for small business and 2.75% for non-profits with the first month’s payments deferred a full year from the date of the promissory note. However, since requirements have changed since the announcement of the CARES Act, many small business owners who submitted applications before March 29th are reapplying for loans.

It would be prudent for Mansi to send her application in ASAP as loans are being approved on a first-come first-served basis; she can hope to get funds as long as there is still money in the pot.

What about those that are not eligible? That long list includes non-resident aliens, those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) status and Temporary Protected Status, H1-B and L-1 work permit holders, truckers too busy to keep on top of paperwork, food workers who are paid in tips that are not recorded income, immigrant workers and all those that oil the wheels of the truckers to ensure a productive ride. For immigrant workers it is going to be extremely difficult to tide over this period.

The drivers make an equivalent of $15-20 an hour and only after 10 years can the trucker even make $25 an hour. Yet the truckers ply the roads delivering essential services against all odds despite the threat of infection. “We cannot have this situation be one that ossifies, that solidifies the inequality and (inability to) access capital. Access to capital is so important,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. The truckers are drowning even as they plod along. They are running out of cash as they wait for the promised loans.

Ritu Marwah wrote this story while participating in the USC Center for Health Journalism‘s California Fellowship