Local minority-owned businesses feel left out of COVID-19 loan help

SPOKANE, Wash. — The federal government, cities and states have shelled out a lot of money to help small businesses, but not everyone is getting a piece of that.

Studies show minority-owned businesses are having an especially tough time getting those loans.

City Council member Betsy Wilkerson says COVID-19 has pointed out a big gap in communication with businesses of color.  

“We’re going to try our best to stay open,” said Shania Wright, the owner of Wrightway Beauty Supply.

That’s a line we’ve heard multiple times throughout this pandemic. It’s the reality for so many business owners right now.

Wright has been in business for almost three years now, selling beauty products for African American women. It took her nearly three years of being open to finally be able to hire some employees to help. Then, that got taken away because of the coronavirus, and it’s even made it harder for Wright to get small business loans.

“At this point we’re kind of losing hope. I’ve applied for, I think five grants, and I’ve received word back from two that I didn’t get selected and I haven’t heard back from any of the other ones,” she told 4 News Now.

Wright is only one of many other businesses owned by a minority who feel like they can’t get any money.Wrightway Beauty Supply Store Sign

Nationally, one analyst says 90 percent of those businesses don’t stand a chance at getting that money.

“What was said on the national stage and what is actually happening here, I thought we were going to be included. Maybe that was the intent, but we weren’t,” Wright said.

Wilkerson says quite a few minority-owned businesses reached out to her since COVID-19 started, asking for help. 

“The challenge is they’re getting all this legal stuff thrown at them, they’re feeling really pressured,” she said.

Wilkerson herself is also a small business owner, so she knows the struggles first-hand. She knows that many small shop owners are operating alone.

“You’re a small business, you don’t have your own legal team, you don’t have your own accounting team where you can just pass this off and they do it for you,” she explained.

Wilkerson has been working to try and better the resources for the minority community members. She said Greater Spokane Inc. has told her it will step up and do a better job to include minority businesses.

“I’m glad that this is pushing us to make them more included in our business community and that GSI will do the outreach it has promised to bring them all into the fold,” Wilkerson said. “It just makes sense and it certainly is long overdue.”

Help is out there – one is the Hispanic Business Professionals Association. President Isabel Mazcot is helping Hispanic business owners in our community.  She’s seen how hard it might be for people, especially when English isn’t their first language.

“These are difficult questions that are on the applications. Sometimes when you’re even in a financial institution, sometimes you have to stop and say ‘What does this mean exactly?’ So, I think the guidance is really, really important,” Mazcot said.

Sometimes it also just takes some education, which Mazcot is giving those Hispanic business owners. Helping small business owners helps the community.

“They are paying their taxes, they are paying federal taxes. These are people that are paying rent, that’s huge for landlords. So, if these people get financial aid, this is going back to the economy and that’s what we got to look at sometimes,” Mazcot said.

Another issue: A businesses relationship with their bank. Bigger lenders are part of the SBA loan program. Not all small businesses have their loans through those banks.

 “Credit unions were not part of the SBA loan program, by the time they got up and running, the money was all gone,” Wilkerson said.

“Instead of applying for loan and doing it that way, we tried to carry the weight of our own and now we’re kind of being penalized for it,” Wright said.

The only thing they can do now is to keep trying and keep that hope alive.

“I feel like we’re going to be starting back to when we first opened. We did it once, we’ll have to do it again,” Wright said.

The City of Spokane is offering a loan to help small businesses, as well, but there are minimum qualifications that need to be met, meaning some people could still be left out. 

Regardless, you can call the City’s financial helpline at 509-625-6650 to learn more or CLICK HERE

There is another organization called Ahana. It is helping minority-owned businesses navigate through the pandemic. You can learn more about them here.  

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