As the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold, the impact on the African American community has become increasingly apparent. While broad discussions have taken place on health disparities making the community more vulnerable to the virus, there are also economic implications for Black people, particularly those of us who are small business owners and in need of assistance from any of the stimulus packages that have made their way through Congress.
This has been a significant concern of NAACP President Derrick Johnson who says his organization wants to ensure that provisions that focus on small and minority businesses and minority financial deposit institutions are included in the language of the measures like the $484 billion relief package that passed both the House and Senate on last Thursday and signed off by President Trump.
Legacy organizations like the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Urban League have put forth efforts to support Black businesses during this pandemic as many of their leaders are concerned that economic aid coming from the federal government may not be enough to deal with all that communities of color are facing.
Johnson recently spoke to BET.com about how the NAACP is directly responding to the economic portion of this crisis and the one thing legislators have yet to do to prioritize assisting Black communities.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]
BET.com: It’s become clear how African American health is being affected by the coronavirus, but how has the pandemic’s impact on the economy affected the Black community?
President Derrick Johnson: The current public health crisis has exposed the weaknesses of the policy reality for African Americans in all areas including health, economic groundability, and lack of access to multiple critical needs. I equate what's taking place now to what happened during Hurricane Katrina.
We are facing that same reality now: an inadequate response from the government, which exposed systemic inequities from economics to health, to mobility. All of those things are exposing the inequities that have existed for years and decades.
BET.com: African American families and businesses, in large part, have long been left at an economic disadvantage. Are we now being pushed down a deeper hole?
Johnson: Over the last 10 years, the fastest growing community to create new businesses was actually African Americans. However, the response in the stimulus packages that have been passed to date has created a vacuum for those same businesses because banks have been given the latitude to cherry pick their larger customers over smaller businesses, which African Americans make up a significant portion.
And so the impact has had a doubling effect. The health pandemic has disproportionately impacted us and as a result of so many companies laying off and furloughing workers, the economic insecurity has had a disproportionate impact on our community, compounded with business owners now being affected because of the insufficient response from the government.
[The stimulus is] only insufficient because it furthers inequities that already exist. It benefited large corporations and companies with well-established, individual personal banking relationships and placed small businesses and businesses that don't have the same level of banking relationships at a disadvantage. And so we've been hit in many different areas.
BET.com: The CARES package, which is targeted at providing financial relief for individuals and families and the recent $484 billion stimulus bill intends to deliver needed funds to small businesses, but will that be enough for the Black community?
Johnson: I don't think it is going to deliver the needed support for small businesses. There were not enough provisions in the bill to ensure small businesses will have a carveout. Therefore, many small business and African American businesses will once again be left behind.
The definition of a small business should be businesses with 10 or less employees. We fought hard as an organization to try to get that language in the bill. And unless the house...amends the bill with that language, we may see the same outcome as we've [already] seen.
BET.com: Have you spoken to minority financial institutions, like Carver Bank and One United, which have traditionally loaned money to Black businesses? Are they in need as well?
Johnson: We convened a call for African American businesses with the head of the Black Bankers’ Association and one of the largest credit unions so we could provide information to African American businesses, nonprofits and our religious institutions on how to navigate the system.
Since there was no specific carve out to support Black and minority businesses and other financial institutions, they're also being left behind because they are put into a bucket of competing against banking institutions with billions of dollars in assets for a race to the finished line. Once [federal relief programs] opened up, most of the money will be consumed by those larger businesses leaving smaller financial institutions and Black financial institutions behind.
We have been working with the Black Bankers Association and various African American financial institutions to try to create a carveout so that they can act as resources to serve our community.
BET.com: Stimulus checks have been going out to individuals, but for many working low wage jobs or in the gig economy, that money won’t stretch very far. What discussions have you had with Black legislators about this issue and what are they saying?
Johnson: Everyone is concerned with the impact this pandemic is having on the broad economy, but particularly the African American economy and people are trying to figure out solutions to the problem.
For the NAACP, we're looking at concrete solutions such as complete discharge of student loans for those who serve the public interest; those who work for government or nonprofits, and those in the medical profession. On average, that would instantly free up $600 per household to go back into the economy to help boost things once we come out of this pandemic. We need systemic solutions for the systemic problem that existed before the pandemic, especially now that we’ve exposed how deep the inequity has been over several decades.
BET.com: What about tuition assistance? Are you encouraging future stimulus to help those who are or want to go back to school?
Johnson: Whenever we can, we support assistance in tuition. We support increasing funds so [schools] can build out their infrastructures to provide distance learning. We support loan forgiveness or discharge for teachers who are now working from home and are already stretched. However, the NAACP is either pushing for, or standing ready to push for efforts that will plug holes in this current economic reality for our community while at the exact same time continue addressing these historic inequities.
Madison J. Gray is senior editor at BET.com.
Photo Credit: Earl Gibson III/Getty Images