Terra Café Owner: Government Ignores Black-Owned Small Businesses

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Like many minority-owned small businesses that have been shut out of the COVID-19 driven Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Terence Dickson, the owner of Terra Café, expressed frustration.

“What does a business in a community that doesn’t qualify for loans or credit do to survive? How do you make the difficult decision to close or stay open and fight?” said Dickson, whose popular café has routinely earned praise as perhaps the best of its kind in Baltimore.

At the beginning of April, Dickson and many other small businesses received a glimmer of hope when Congress established the PPP to help keep the doors open and workers on the payroll.

Dickson immediately applied for relief through the $350 billion program, which offered small business loans for as much as $10 million to help keep them up and running during the pandemic.

The second round of more than $400 billion recently was signed into law by President Donald Trump after Congress passed new legislation when the first set of funds ran dry, in large part because big businesses like Shake Shack, Ruth Chris Steakhouse, and even the Los

Angeles Lakers basketball team swooped in a scooped up the cash.

The law, which was intended for businesses with fewer than 500 employees and those not publicly traded, turns the loans into grants if companies maintain the same amount of employees it had just before the pandemic.

Dickson and many other black-owned small businesses were shut out in the first round, and he and others are finding little success with the new funding.

“The bank walked me through the requirements, but they told me that I had to have a credit card or a line of credit with the bank,” Dickson said. “Black-owned small businesses usually don’t have a line of credit. We usually don’t have business credit cards. This doesn’t work for us, and if you think it was a mistake that the big businesses that weren’t supposed to be eligible but got the money, then you’re wrong.”

Now, after mostly shutting down Tera Café and forced to reduce his staff drastically, Dickson is awaiting word on a second application through the PPP. He’s not optimistic.

“The banks make their own customers priorities, and those customers are mostly larger businesses,” Dickson said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and some other members of the Congressional Black Caucus are calling for the Treasury Department to compile racial data in regards to which businesses and corporations are receiving PPP funds.

“I’m pushing for that racial data collection when it comes to who the lenders are lending to,” Pressley said in a recently published interview. “That which gets measured gets done. And so having that data and that transparency in real-time will allow us to course correct. It will likely offer sobering confirmation of a lack of (parity) of loans and grants to minority small businesses.”

Dickson and others welcome that kind of intervention.

He says it’s frustrating that the government has again left black-owned businesses to fend for themselves mostly.

“I’m not expecting that we will get anything before the money runs out again,” Dickson said. “They promised black people our 40 acres and a mule, and we never got it, so why should any of us expect them to do anything they’re supposed to do?”