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The U.S. Treasury rushed out aid to businesses hit by the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, but it wasn’t distributed equally. According to Tarik Brooks, the COO of Combs Enterprises—the conglomerate owned by music legend Sean “Diddy” Combs—a large number of black-owned businesses were effectively excluded from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and other relief programs.
A big reason, said Brooks, who spoke at a Fortune seminar for small-business owners, is that the majority of black-owned businesses lacked the operational infrastructure to seek aid, such as the accounting and HR support necessary to quickly furnish documents. Meanwhile, many of these companies lacked relationships with lenders—a critical factor in who got aid since much of the emergency money was distributed through lenders on a first-come, first-served basis.
“Most African-American businesses don’t have a single employee. The biggest struggle is arranging their info in a way that’s easy to organize and submit. A lot of people are great at their crafts but don’t have accountants,” Brooks said, speaking of sole-employee businesses like consultants or hairstylists.
This is the same community that was hit especially hard by the coronavirus outbreak.
“The COVID crisis has created two pandemics—a health one and a wealth one because of the economic disruption,” said Brooks.
In response, Combs Enterprises launched Our Fair Share, a platform to help black-owned businesses access relief funds. Brooks explained the platform has first worked to raise awareness about the availability of relief funds and is helping black entrepreneurs complete complicated PPP forms. Our Fair Share has also been working to connect them with lenders.
These efforts have already paid dividends as black businesses had more success obtaining funds in the second round of PPP relief, in part through working with local banks and fintech companies like Kabbage and Square.
The Fortune seminar also featured Michael Cole, a senior lawyer at the HR and payroll company Gusto. According to Gusto, one of the biggest challenges for business owners in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis is managing employees. He stated it is critical for owners to express empathy while also being straightforward with workers about the financial realities facing their companies.