Commentary

Harrisburg should not pass up this opportunity to invest in the Black economy | Opinion

Businesses located on 2200 block of Ridge Avenue in North Philadelphia are pictured (Philadelphia Tribune photo)

 By Regina A. Hairston

The COVID-19 pandemic devastated everyone in its path, from restaurants to the already overburdened healthcare system; only a few industries escaped a near total collapse. Business owned by Black Americans suffered devastating impacts.

There were gaps before the pandemic that made being a Black owned business challenging. Since the 1980s, “race-based contracting preferences have been weakened by federal court rulings,” making it harder for public private partnerships to exist.

And now, during the most difficult time in modern history, Black owned businesses found themselves last in the line for federal relief such as Paycheck Protection Program loans.

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Encouragingly, the number of Black owned businesses have grown in recent years, many of these businesses being sole proprietorships. However, any progress made was devastated by COVID-19.

Research by ProPublica states that there have been “18.4 percent fewer self-employed Black people working in July 2020 than there had been a year previously, compared to 6.2 percent fewer self-employed white people.”

Black-owned businesses, and their survival are crucial to communities of color. Black-owned businesses have a tendency to hire other people of color, creating a business ecosystem that ensures communities can thrive right where they are. With an unemployment rate of 19.5 percent for Black people in Pennsylvania, the future of Black-owned businesses is more critical than ever.

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Pennsylvania has an opportunity to do just that, and help businesses recuperate what they lost in the pandemic. Pennsylvania has over $7 billion dollars American Rescue Plan funding available for use, and currently, our Commonwealth is sitting on a $3 billion dollar surplus, totaling $10 billion dollars in funds that can be used to help communities devastated by this pandemic.

As it stands, the Pennsylvania Legislature is planning to stash this money in the Rainy Day Fund, leaving small businesses, schools, and people in the midst of a gun violence epidemic in the dust.

The Rainy Day Fund is typically utilized during recessions and hard economic times. Not only are we in the middle of the most difficult time for Black people, with a poverty rate at 26.4 percent, but any shot at getting ahead was lost by COVID-19’s and the economic turmoil that came with it.

Not only should these funds be used to aid our schools, fix health inequities and create workforce development and job training programs, but we need to invest in Black-owned businesses.

We need to make sure that they have the capital, financing and the procurement opportunities that all other businesses have so that they can pull themselves out of this dark financial time. When we do that, more people of color across this commonwealth will be employed in their communities, spurring economic growth for years to come.

If this money sits in the Rainy Day Fund, and we wait for another crisis to strike, it will be too late for Black owned businesses to recuperate the losses they have already taken.

Black-owned businesses are the pillar of their communities, and as they grow, opportunity for a whole community grows along with it. That is what is at stake if we let them go under this time around. Harrisburg must invest in Black owned businesses with the 10 billion dollars available in the Pennsylvania budget before it is too late.

Regina A. Hairston is the president and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, based in Philadelphia. The African American Chamber has promoted the voice, the vision, and the value of Black-owned businesses in the region for over 28 years.

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