Columbia World Projects (CWP) on Friday published a report on a recent experts’ roundtable on concrete steps the United States Congress can take to mitigate the disproportionate economic impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on minority-owned small businesses. The report, which summarizes the experts’ roundtable and the specific recommendations put forward by participants, will be disseminated to key members of Congress to inform ongoing discussions around legislation to provide additional support to small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moderated by Visiting Columbia Professor and former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew, the August 11 roundtable brought together more than 20 participants, including national policymakers, academics, experts from financial institutions and the private sector, and representatives from minority-owned small businesses and community-based organizations in Harlem. In the meeting, participants examined the challenges facing minority-owned small businesses in the current crisis, with a special focus on the experience in the Harlem neighborhood surrounding Columbia University, and the shortfalls of the federal government’s response up to this time. The discussion also explored the historical drivers and underpinnings of the disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx-owned businesses, particularly as the country reckons with the profound and wide-ranging consequences of systemic racism.
Participants identified concrete recommendations on steps the U.S. Congress can take to ensures more assistance reaches the underserved businesses that need it most. Their recommendations include providing multiple forms of financial assistance beyond loans, such as grants and equity; supporting community-based organizations that help minority-owned small businesses access crucial resources; and expanding assistance to include insolvent businesses and businesses interested in restructuring. More broadly, participants urged Congress to seize the current moment to reform and even reimagine the flawed systems and policies that have perpetuated long-standing inequities in the United States – not only helping minority entrepreneurs weather the current crisis, but empowering them to thrive long after it is over.