Unless the government changes its ways, millions of businesses ‘will not make it’: Newark mayor

Congress has now passed four significant pieces of legislation to try to blunt the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and rush help to the U.S. economy.

It’s still not getting to most small businesses, says the mayor of Newark, N.J.

“Honestly, very few of the businesses in the city have been able to access [government] funding,” Mayor Ras Baraka told Yahoo Finance, pointing to deficiencies at every level of government, from his own administration up to Washington, D.C.

“You have millions of businesses that will never be able to get funding from the way it’s happening now,” he said.

Holes in the Paycheck Protection Program

The Paycheck Protection Program, which offers up to a $10 million forgivable loan per business, was unveiled in March with the hope that empowering banks would get the money out quickly to those that need it. Jovita Carranza, head of the Small Business Administration, said lenders would be a “single point-of-contact for small businesses”

The problem is that many small businesses – and especially minority-owned small businesses – didn’t have a pre-existing banking relationship to get them in line for funds.

Goldman Sachs recently surveyed businesses receiving PPP funds and found a “double-digit disparity” among black-owned businesses in the program both in how many were able to apply and how many eventually got approved.

A closed restaurant in Newark during the city-wide shelter-in-place mandate. (Donell Woodson/Getty Images)

Businesses may soon have another option in the Federal Reserve’s Main Street Lending Program which will offer low-cost loans to small businesses. The Fed says it is still working to “operationalize” that program.

The program has delivered over half a trillion dollars to businesses around the country so far. In March, the Congress gave the program $310 billion in a second round of funding. As of Saturday, $195 billion from that current allotment had been spent.

Left to mix public and private sources of aid

To combat the shortfall, Baraka has tried to cobble together aid from a variety of public and private sources. 

“We stood up a $6 million fund with the help of local corporations here, private sector, public sector together,” Baraka said, mentioning private partners like Goldman Sachs and Sean “Diddy” Combs’s businesses and investment portfolio.

Goldman Sachs has promised $500 million to help small businesses around the world. Margaret Anadu, Goldman’s head its Urban Investment Group, also joined Yahoo Finance on Monday to discuss that program.

Goldman works directly with cities, including Newark. “We said, Mayor, we have this capital available,” Anadu said, then quickly “had dozens of businesses” to loan money to. She says the majority of the capital has been lent from the program as a whole and “the data that’s starting to come back is really encouraging.”

Newark’s fund allowed Baraka to offer grants from $2,000 to $10,000. He is very thankful for the assistance from Goldman and elsewhere, but he says he’s going to need much more to cover the 9,000 small businesses in his city.

It’s still “woefully woefully too small for the amount of businesses that we have,” Baraka said.

Baraka was elected Mayor in 2014 after Cory Booker was elected to the U.S. Senate. (REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz)

Baraka recently signed a letter supporting a plan led by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Steve Daines (R-MT) to infuse $50 billion into city and state relief funds around the country. 

Newark’s $6 million fund would get an additional $75 million under this plan, according to Baraka. Booker and Daines have written that the idea would “build on what is already working across the country.”

Baraka said the plan, which was formally introduced in the Senate last week, is a “great first step.” If it makes it into a the next bill, that deal is not expected to be finalized until at least June or July.

In the meantime, Baraka said, businesses are “suffering through the summer,” and if the money never materializes there are “millions of businesses that will not make it.”

Ben Werschkul is a producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.

Read more:

Cory Booker calls on lawmakers to get ‘their act together’ on new coronavirus stimulus

Coronavirus stimulus checks: What would need to happen before a second round

Why some lawmakers want cannabis companies and casinos to be eligible for coronavirus loans

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