Democrats want better access to pandemic relief funds for minority business owners


NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Craig Burgess is pretty handy with a pair of scissors. After all, he should be, as the owner of a Newport News barbershop for the past 13 years. But even he couldn’t cut through the bureaucracy of trying to get a pandemic relief loan as a minority business owner.

Prior to the pandemic, business at Craig’s Barber Shop in Denbigh was humming.

“Many days, I would cut hair without taking a lunch break,” Burgess recalled. “Then once the pandemic came, people got kind of reluctant to come into the shop.”

And then barbershops were on the list of businesses that had to shut down for two months by order of the governor. Burgess applied for a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program — part of the COVID-19 relief money approved by Congress.

“The information (that was required) and the applications, it was just too overwhelming.”

Del. Jay Jones, (D-Norfolk), says minority businesses are facing more hurdles than others when it comes to access to capital.

“We certainly got complaints from folks who felt that they were not able to access those funds and were not given those funds, and felt like they were pushed down into the waterfall,” Jones said. “That’s not just limited to Norfolk, that’s all throughout Hampton Roads.”

Virginia Democrats point to a correlation between COVID-19 cases and unemployment in local cities that have higher minority populations, especially Portsmouth and Norfolk — and how the unemployment rate rises when minority-owned businesses fail.

“It seems that the banks have been reluctant to lend to those businesses and put them in a bind during the time when we need it the most,” Jones said.

The CARES Act directed the Small Business Administration to prioritize underserved communities. Jones says President Donald Trump should make the agency honor that — and the president himself should honor one of his own frequent claims.

“The president said ‘I’ve done more for the Black community than any president in history in this country,'” Jones said. “And we are living proof that he has not.”

Burgess was able to get a loan from his local bank and expects his business to at least survive, if not thrive. COVID19 continues to affect him. He has to see fewer clients because of all the cleaning and sanitizing that has to be done in between haircuts.

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