By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
mgreen@afro.com

With non-essential businesses closed, restaurants under-operating and much of the nation’s capital shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (D) and the District of Columbia Council are working to assist small businesses during this hard time, while also keeping communities of color in mind.

Shortly after D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that she was declaring both a state of emergency and public health emergency, McDuffie told the AFRO in an exclusive that he immediately began working to soften the blow and help local residents, as complaints began ringing in about the social distancing sting.

Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (D) is leading efforts to support small businesses and communities of color during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy Photo)

“Unlike a lot of local economies, we have a lot of small business owners. We have a lot of locally owned restaurants in the District of Columbia, so the impact was felt almost instantaneously,” McDuffie said.

“We heard from hotel owners- the hotel industry has been decimated. We heard from restaurant owners, and you know D.C. has a very burgeoning restaurant and nightlife scene here in the city, and it’s really been one of the stronger aspects of our local economy.” 

Keeping the District’s businesses in mind, McDuffie introduced the “DC Public Health Emergency Small Business Grant Program, part of the Council’s larger COVID-19 Response Emergency Amendment Act of 2020

“While recognizing there is still a long road ahead and more work to be done by the District government to support our economy, this program will begin to help some of our small businesses, nonprofits and independent contractors weather this storm,” McDuffie said in a statement.

The Ward 5 Councilmember emphasized that the grant is wide-ranging in the kind of small businesses the grant program hopes to support.  

“We wanted to make it as inclusive as possible, so not only is it for small business owners, but it’s also for nonprofits as well as independent contractors who do not qualify for the District’s unemployment,” he said. “So when I think about industries that are important to residents that sometimes don’t get the recognition that they deserve, I think about our Go-Go community.  There are a lot of small business owners in our Go-Go community, independent contractors, whose venues have told them that they have to cancel or postpone until dates that are uncertain. And we wanted to make sure that they could also apply to the small business micro-grant program.”

While big businesses and corporations might also be experiencing challenges, despite their work for an inclusive program, McDuffie said the program is limited to organizations that would be eligible to constitute as a small business according to U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) guidelines, even without the official small business enterprise (SBE) certification.

The District’s grant program is beginning with $25 million in funds given to businesses and McDuffie encourages Washingtonian entrepreneurs to apply at: http://coronavirus.dc.gov/recovery-business.  

In addition to the work McDuffie has done to support small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Councilmember is also considering the disproportionate effect such difficult times can have on communities of color.

“As the saying goes, when White America catches a cold, Black America catches the flu. While many experts are conveying coronavirus warnings as though they will impact Americans equally, it is more likely that this pandemic will hit the poor, communities of color and minority owned businesses the hardest,” McDuffie said in a letter sent to his colleagues on March 23.

He particularly pointed out that people of color “are more likely to be uninsured or underinsured,” and not have access to transportation, a primary care physician, or doctor.  McDuffie also noted that with unemployment rates projected to skyrocket up to 30 percent nationally, “we should assume that those numbers will be even higher for communities of color.” 

In addition, the Council member explained how communities of color might have a harder time social distancing.

“Many people of color live in cities, dense neighborhoods, or public housing, while others experience persistent housing insecurity or homelessness. Our families tends to be larger and more than one generation may live under one roof, exposing vulnerable adults to frequent interactions with others inside their home,” McDufffie explained.

The Council member implored his colleagues to particularly consider the plight of communities of color as they continue to brainstorm how to assist residents.

“As the coronavirus spreads and public health emergency persists, I hope that we will continue to work collaboratively, paying special attention to the impact that this disease and the response to its spread may have on communities of color as well as on minority-and women-owned businesses.”

Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor