Harlem Leaders Discuss Congressional Support for Minority-Owned Small Businesses

Editor's note:

A version of this article was original published by Columbia World Projects.

August 26, 2020

Columbia World Projects convened a discussion with representatives of minority-owned small businesses and community-based organizations in Harlem, policymakers, financial institutions and academics on August 14. The meeting, “Legislative Pathways to Improving Support for Minority-Owned Small Businesses in the COVID-19 Crisis,” focused on developing targeted recommendations for how Congress can more effectively provide assistance to minority-owned small businesses, including in Harlem, that have been disproportionately affected by the ongoing economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jack Lew, a visiting professor at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs and former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, moderated the discussion, which was held online. 

“COVID-19 has intensified the challenges that minority-owned small businesses in Harlem and other neighborhoods have long faced as a result of racial bias and unequal access to credit. Yet the federal government’s response to date has failed to get support to enough of these underserved businesses,” Lew said. “Our aim in convening this meeting was to not only understand what went wrong, but also how future efforts by Congress can reach the businesses in greatest need and the communities they serve, including in Harlem.”    

With more than 100,000 small businesses in the U.S. permanently shut between March and May, the pandemic has ravaged the American economy at historic levels. Low-income and minority communities have borne the brunt of the economic fallout, exacerbating deep and long-standing inequities. 

The meeting aimed to understand the nature of the challenge through the perspective of local businesses, community-based organizations and financial institutions, and explore why the government response to date has fallen short; identify the historical drivers that have exacerbated the crisis for minority populations; and develop recommendations to Congress on legislative pathways to more effectively aid underserved businesses in Harlem and beyond. 

Key findings of the discussion will be documented in a public report, to be published on the Columbia World Project’s website in the coming weeks. It will set out proposed recommendations and shared conclusions.