SACRAMENTO (CBM) – The City of Sacramento had good intentions when it offered a $1 million economic relief package to local businesses affected by the novel Coronavirus pandemic. But the small window of time Sacramento gave businesses to apply for the money— and the lack of public information it provided about the program — prevented Black business owners from participating.
When the funding became available, the city sent out a notice about the it to several groups it called “partners.” They included the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Sacramento Asian-Pacific Chamber of Commerce.
However, Sacramento’s outreach to its local businesses did not include the Sacramento Black Chamber of Commerce (SBCC) or the Sacramento Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“Our mayor is a visionary individual, but I think he slept one night and said, ‘I’m going to put a million dollars out there for small business.’ But there was no strategy in place. Business leaders need to be at the table to establish the criteria for the funding, and we should make sure that Black businesses are at the table,” said Azizza Davis-Goines, president and CEO of the SBCC, referring to Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.
Davis-Goines also questioned the city’s application process, which expired at midnight, Friday, March 20. She told California Black Media (CBM) that a total of 3,000 Sacramento small businesses have applied for the funding.
Several Sacramento African-American business owners have expressed their concerns to the SBCC, complaining that the set-up of the application process shut many of them out. The online portal where business owners could apply for Sacramento’s “Small Business Emergency Economic Relief Loan” (SSBEERL) closed only two days after it opened.
The city says the fund will provide zero-interest secured loans of up to $25,000 for each business. They will be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis to qualified applicants upon submission of all required information and supporting documents.
“It’s clear that there is not going to be enough funding to go around,” Davis-Goines said. About the application process, she added, “they know that they could not fund them all and could not continue taking applications. It was a small window.”
The city also allowed nonprofit organizations to apply for the loans, too, but said it will give priority to restaurants, retail businesses with storefronts, and day-care providers that demonstrate clear hardship due to COVID-19.
The need to help distressed small businesses has been the focus of local, state, and federal governments since the Coronavirus pandemic began to impact economies around the world this month. But Black businesspeople and advocates worry other cities, like Sacramento, will not make an effort to include Black and other other minority businesses as they disburse billions in impending federal and state funding to people and businesses the COVID-19 crisis has impacted.
Veronica Lillie, an African-American businesswoman and member of the SBCC, runs a small business in Sacramento. She learned about the SSBEERL program from her banker at Golden 1, a credit union with branches across California.
But Lillie says she did not have enough time to apply.
“Oh, darn. That was the cutoff?” Lillie said when she found the deadline had passed. “Looking at it in hindsight, it would have been nice to have.”
Lillie owns and operates “Sugarlillies – Sugaring and Brow Studio,” located in the upscale Pavilions Shopping Center in Sacramento. She is a licensed aesthetician who specializes in skincare and hair removal.
After earning certificates and licenses in skincare, hair removal, brow design, and cosmetic chemistry, Ms. Lillie says she worked hard and, over the last 20 years, built a profitable small business with a loyal base of clients.
But since Gov. Newsom ordered a shutdown of most small business in California, she has been losing money daily. Now, her businesses faces an uncertain future. Lillie says she is trying to find ways to remain financially stable, and being a single parent with a daughter only makes it tougher.
“It would help a lot of people,” the businesswoman said. “But it’s only a million dollars.
Davis-Goines agrees with Lillie’s assessment that the funding will only stop the hemorrhaging short term.
“This money is nothing more than a bandaid,” Davis-Goines said. “Nobody is going to get enough to really make a big dent.”
Lillie’s profession requires her to work out of her office. So, in the mean time, she has been selling gift cards and accepting advance payments to help her business stay afloat.
“It felt like, finally, I was getting into a position to really make it,” she said. “Like really being able to put money aside for retirement.”
CBM reached out to the Sacramento mayor’s office to question the emergency loan application process.
It was important to demonstrate that the city was “doing something” right away, Steinberg responded.
“A million dollars is not nearly enough,” the mayor added, pointing out that it was important to demonstrate that the city was “doing something” right away.
“But we are working to access hundreds of millions of dollars through the state and federal governments,” he added. “So, the million dollars was just a statement that the city was willing to help, organize, and help galvanize. That’s exactly what we have done.”
When the emergency loan was first approved, Steinberg issued a statement.
“We are working furiously with our labor, state and federal partners to mitigate the financial cost to our small businesses and to workers,” Steinberg said.
After the application process closed, the city sent out another notice to its “partners,” explaining that the number of applications that poured in were “significant” and “substantial. That statement did acknowledge, though, that “we knew it wouldn’t be the solution for everything.”
Again, the city did not include the SBCC on that correspondence.
“I always feel some kind of way when I don’t see Black organizations on the list as a resource,” Betty Williams, president of the local branch of the NAACP, said.
The SBCC did send out emails detailing the loan program and posted information on its website.
“There are other funding mechanisms that are in place,” Davis-Goines said. “I suggest that everybody look at our website. The SBA (Small Business Administration) still has great opportunities to take out loans and they don’t have a deadline like the city.”
For more information, call the Sacramento Black Chamber of Commerce at (916) 231-0416 or visit www.sacblackchamber.org.
Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media