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Congress Pressed to Rescue Struggling Black Owned businesses

Lawmakers negotiating the next small-business rescue package are facing mounting pressure to direct more aid to minority employers who are hurting the most during the pandemic but have struggled to access hundreds of billions of federal dollars unleashed since March.

Business groups and consumer advocates are lobbying Congress to rethink a model that has leaned heavily on distributing funds via private lenders because of concerns that the smallest businesses lack relationships with traditional banks.

A bipartisan proposal by Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) — backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — would make $50 billion in grants available to state and local governments for the smallest businesses and nonprofits.

And Senate Small Business Chair Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is floating new ways to aim funds at the hardest-hit businesses. The expected revamp of the Paycheck Protection Program — the $670 billion effort Congress created to rush forgivable loans to millions of small businesses — is likely to still rely on banks. But Rubio has circulated plans to target long-term loans at businesses that make most of their money in low-income communities and to set aside $25 billion for those with 10 or fewer employees.

“It’s not as simple as just keeping the lights on for the PPP forever,” said Thomas Sullivan, vice president of small business policy at the Chamber of Commerce. “There really does need to be an emphasis toward the underbanked.”

The drive has taken on greater urgency in recent weeks as economic data and surveys have revealed that Black business owners in particular have been disproportionately devastated by the coronavirus recession. The trend holds damaging long-term implications for minority communities as the U.S. moves into what is likely to be an uneven economic recovery.

One widely cited economic analysis showed that Black-owned businesses were slammed the most by Covid-19, with the number of owners plunging by 41 percent from February to April. Research by the JPMorgan Chase Institute showed cash balances for Black businesses were down by 26 percent at the end of March from a year earlier, compared with a 12 percent decline for all firms.

Left unaddressed, the ripple effects of a wave of closures would be significant. Black-owned businesses are more likely to hire Black workers, offering a crucial source of jobs for a population whose unemployment rate has historically been roughly double that of white Americans, even in a strong economy.

They are also more likely to be located in majority-Black communities, helping boost property values for homes and businesses there. A disproportionate loss of Black-owned businesses could also widen the already staggering racial wealth gap in the country, where the average white family has 10 times greater net worth than the average Black family.

As a huge proportion of Black-owned businesses are forced to close, “what wealth is there now to transfer on?” said Gary Hoover, editor of the Journal of Economics, Race, and Policy and an economics professor at the University of Oklahoma. “I’ve got a higher unemployment rate in this community. Now I’ve got lower property values in this community. I’ve got less wealth in this community. Things are just continual.”

Advocates argue that the Paycheck Protection Program failed to fully address the problem, in part because it was structured to favor borrowers who have ongoing ties to banks, which businesses owned by people of color are less likely to have.

“We got off to a bad start for the underserved communities,” Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate Small Business Committee, said in an interview.

Montee Holland, president and CEO of a high-fashion dress suit brand called the Tayion Collection, said he was initially rejected for a PPP loan and then struggled to get approved for another.

The Michigan-based designer said he has managed to pay his rent and bills by selling the suits he had in stock directly to consumers online. But without assistance or a major change in the retail landscape, he expects to be able to last only six to eight more months.

“To say that it’s been tough is the understatement of the century,” he said.

Congress has tried to close the gaps, but advocates say more can be done.

After overwhelming demand for the Paycheck Protection Program exhausted its initial funding by mid-April, Congress passed a second, $320 billion appropriation that set aside money for the smallest lenders. Some of those funds went to lenders whose mission is working with disadvantaged communities.

In response to calls to target the funding even further, the Trump administration allocated $10 billion for so-called community development financial institutions, which focus on low-income areas.

And just days before the Paycheck Protection Program was set to close to applications — Congress has since agreed to extend it — the Trump administration loosened some restrictions on borrowers with criminal records after facing lawsuits and political pressure from Democrats and Republicans.

The last-minute change gave Altimont Wilks time to secure a loan to help his businesses in Hagerstown, Md. A federal judge last week ordered the Small Business Administration to reserve funding for Wilks once the program shut down. Wilks was initially barred from the program because of a 2004 felony conviction.

“You hear the stories, but to live it, to be that ‘African American disadvantaged minority business owner’ — imagine being that disadvantaged owner with a criminal record, during a time when unemployment is going sky high not just for African Americans but for everyone,” Wilks said in an interview.

Economists have criticized the time it took to make the funds more widely available, saying some minority-owned businesses could not survive long enough even to apply for the second round of aid.

“Just the weeks that went by between those time periods could be the difference between the life and death of a business,” said Henry McKoy, director of entrepreneurship at North Carolina Central University’s business school.

“The really small businesses, the businesses with one employee, the businesses owned by people of color, they need super-small loans,” said Ashley Harrington, director of federal advocacy at the Center for Responsible Lending. “The way the PPP is structured, banks are paid an origination fee based on the size of the loan. The size of the loan is based on the size of the payroll. If we want to incentivize banks to serve the really small businesses and the businesses owned by people of color, the origination fee has to match that.”

Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), who is sponsoring the legislation that would create a $50 billion grant program for businesses and nonprofits with up to 20 or 50 employees, said the smallest businesses were at high risk of not getting help under the PPP model.

“These are really small businesses for which the machinations of going through loan underwriting and then loan forgiveness are just completely unnecessary,” he said of his legislation with Daines and Booker. “Very often these are women, minority-owned or veteran-owned businesses.”

One problem that Congress faces in targeting the aid is the lack of data provided by the Trump administration on the loans. The SBA has only just agreed to disclose loan recipients to Congress and the public, but the agency did not collect demographic information in the PPP application.

But based on some of the alarming anecdotal information available, lawmakers are near agreement on ways to try to direct funds to the hardest-hit minority businesses.

“We did better as the program went along. What the final result is, we don’t know yet,” Cardin said in an interview. “The good news is both Senator Rubio and I believe we need to target funds to the underbanked and underserved communities.”

Source: Politico

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Legal and Life Lessons Learned From the Passing of the Great John Singleton

I remember as a child watching Boyz in the Hood with mixed emotions. Although I could not relate to many of the characters’ issues, as a Black teen growing up in the Appalachian mountains, it was a relief to see Black people in a Black community living their Black lives.

I remember feeling proud that the filmmaker was a Black man and that he wrote the story. Admittedly, I was also sad that the story depicted realities for some Black people in America.

John Singleton on set of his debut film Boyz N the Hood, 1991.
BY AARON RAPOPORT/CORBIS/GETTY IMAGES
After reading the news about John Singleton’s health and the rumors of conflict it brought up for his family, I again had mixed feelings. His work and his tenacity in an industry that is not inviting to Black people has had an indelible impact on our community and on film.
credit: Biography.com

My gratitude and pride in his work maintain. Unfortunately, the circumstances of his legal affairs and some of the responses I’ve seen on social media gave me a sense of horror, albeit quite different from that I felt in watching Boyz in the Hood.

Luvvie Ajayi (@luvvie) pleaded with her public to basically get your shit in order, presumably in response to Mr. Singleton’s situation. Her post is timely because celebrities’ stories often astonish and spark conversation. However, I read some of the comments with great concern and, quite frankly, frustration.

Quite a few people suggested websites where you can get your power of attorney documents, wills, and etc. done for cheap or even free. Some folks suggested to simply write your wishes down and give them to someone you trust. Others expressed that they don’t know what to do because they are not married or have kids.

There were, of course, people who recommended working with an attorney and offered advice that is legally sound. God bless you!

From my 12+ years as an attorney working in death and dirt*, I believe we as a community don’t do ourselves justice when it comes to the power we have to do estate planning that works for us with the help of an attorney.

john singleton
Credit (AP Photo/Keystone, Alessandro della Valle)

Disclaimer: non-Black people also don’t value hiring attorneys to do this work. Most Americans don’t. However, not only are black people not planning, we are also dealing with all the adversity our country has to offer. We’re undermining our own ability to fight back against all the systemic bullsh*t we’ve had to and continue to fight.

If Mr. Singleton’s condition had continued, someone would have to seek appointment from a judge to make decisions on his behalf regarding health care and assets. If multiple people applied or if others contested the application, there would be a delay in taking care of him and his assets and it would have cost a lot.

The initial fees for conservatorship in California are $1,115, and they go higher. Contrast this with an estate plan prepared by an attorney that includes a financial power of attorney and healthcare power of attorney, which would cost between $800-3,500 in California. Mr. Singleton’s plan would have likely costed more given the mix and complexity of assets, but it would have saved thousands of dollars and preserved relationships.

What sounds better? A person other than you making the decision of who can care for you at great expense or you making the decision for yourself at some expense?

A new set of challenges come into play in addressing his estate now that he has passed. If he didn’t have an estate plan, and it appears that he did not, there will be significant legal fees that drain his estate.

Mr. Singleton had multiple children. For any child born from a relationship that was not a marriage, there will be legal fees, and likely emotional pain, to confirm if the children were legitimated and, therefore, entitled to inherit. I have estates where thousands of dollars have been spent just confirm if a child is an heir.

john singleton
Maya Angelou with John Singleton in 1993, the year “Poetic Justice” was released.CreditCreditColumbia Pictures, via Everett Collection

For the minor children, additional legal fees will have to be paid to seek guardianship of each minor child’s estate until they turn 18 years old in order to manage their inheritance. I’ve had custodial parents who can’t qualify for the bond required to manage their child’s inheritance. So it sits in limbo.

Like Aretha Franklin, Mr. Singleton apparently personally owned assets totaling more than the threshold amount for consideration of estate taxes. His assets will be significantly diminished to pay the taxes and assets may have to be sold in order to pay the estate tax. His creations could be sold to pay the IRS.

Then there was his significant other. If he doesn’t have a will or trust that provides for her or if he didn’t list her as a beneficiary on a financial account, she likely gets nothing.

I’ve had estates where the deceased had a will that they never updated even after having a kid and after getting married. Their spouse and adult child didn’t inherit anything. Instead, their surviving parent inherited everything, including the home.

If you haven’t worked with an attorney to create a plan customized to your unique, beautiful life I hope you find the following encouraging:

  • you are worth every dollar you spend with the attorney;
  • many attorneys accept payment plans;
  • an attorney gives you a lot more than the documents, i.e. you get intimate counsel online and boxed plans can’t give you;
  • people with no partner or spouse can do so many wonderful things with their assets like give back to your favorite organizations and schools or treat your besties a life celebrating trip.

 

I could go on but I want to hear from you. If you haven’t created an estate plan with the help of an attorney, why not? What’s holding you back?

I’d love to hear from you and I will share some additional horror stories I’ve seen.

Let us know in the comments or by sending a message through my website.

 

– Contributed by Mavis Gragg

Mavis Gragg is an attorney at the Gragg Law Firm, PLLC in Durham, North Carolina where she specializes in estate planning and estate administration. She is very passionate about maintaining and growing Black wealth through sound legal strategies and problem solving. When she is not being a justice girl, she can be found at an art gallery, trotting the globe, or on the dance floor.

 

Feature Image: John Singleton on the set of Poetic Justice in Los Angeles, 1993.BY ANTHONY BARBOZA/GETTY IMAGES.

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Assemblywoman Angela McKnight helps create laws that actually make a difference

In our collective pursuit of economic empowerment, it is important to acknowledge the role of politics. It is also important to acknowledge the public officials that are working to create the policies that can help us  achieve our economic goals.

Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, the 1st African American Assemblywoman for the 31st District for the state of New Jersey, is one such person.

Angela V. McKnight, newly elected as the 1st African American Assemblywoman for the 31st District for the state of New Jersey

What inspired you to get into politics?

Based on the prior work I had been doing in the community since about 2010; I was approached by the Mayor of Jersey City and the County Democratic Organization to run for the Legislative District 31 Assembly seat. After speaking with my family and close friends, we collectively decided that running for office would place me in a better position to advocate for my community.

As an elected official, I have been able to take the work that I have been doing on a local level and implement change through advocating and creating policies in our capital, Trenton, New Jersey.

What existing policies do you feel are most beneficial to business owners and what types don’t exist but should?

Some examples of policies on a state level that are beneficial to business owners are Opportunity Zones and Urban Enterprise Zones, New Jersey’s Small Business Development Centers, and various incentives for Minority/ Women Owned Businesses. The State of New Jersey aims to foster a thriving environment for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Our policies are very forward thinking; for example in 2018, New Jersey passed the strongest pay equity law in the country and paid sick leave. In order to make our economy stronger, I believe our state needs to raise our minimum wage to a livable wage so everyone can contribute to our economy without constantly struggling to make ends meet.

Photo credit: The Moorefield Group

You recently teamed up with Tiffany Aliche to get a financial literacy law passed. Can you explain the significance of this law?

This bill (A-1414) expands on the New Jersey Student Learning financial literacy standards that are in place for New Jersey public school students in grades K-8. What is unique about A-1414 is that it establishes uniform requirements for each grade from grades 6-8. With the current standards, which are not mandated by law, students must learn about various aspects of financial literacy “by the end of grade 4,” “by the end of grade 8” and “by the end of grade 12.”

Tiffany “The Budgetnista” Aliche , Acting Governor Shiela Oliver and Assemblywoman Angela McKnight. Photo Credit: Anthony McKnight

Through A-1414, public school districts are mandated by law to incorporate financial literacy in each grade 6-8. The goal of this bill is to develop state-mandated, uniform requirements that districts must implement. In other words, the intent is to help students learn and implement best practices for managing money prior to adulthood.

The signing of Bill A1414 (Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, 3rd from left; Acting Governor Shiela Oliver, seated. Credit: Anthony McKnight)

What is a law or bill you got passed that benefits the business owners in your local community?

In 2018 I sponsored a piece of legislation, A-3754, which establishes a limited license for hair braiding. The bill was signed into law and went into effect on January 2, 2019.

I wanted to make sure that hair braiders, who are predominantly African-American and African immigrant women, are able to use their skills to support themselves and their families, without excessive regulation. I want to support entrepreneurship. As a result of this law, hair braiders can now practice their talents without fear of excessive fines.

Assemblywoman McKnight with a group of entrepreneurs that will benefit from legislation, A-3754 that she helped sign into law.

In your opinion how can entrepreneurs collaborate with their local government officials to promote economic development?

Entrepreneurs can collaborate with their local government officials by engaging in the process and letting them know what policies/ procedures are doing well and what can be improved. Without input from the community, local officials will not be able to accurately assess what is best for their constituents.

 

Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson (IG @thebusyafrican)

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Cyntoia Brown receives Full Clemency and Early Release from Prison

Gov. Bill Haslam ordered an early release for Cyntoia Brown, a Tennessee woman and alleged sex trafficking victim serving a life sentence in prison for killing a man when she was 16.

Haslam granted Brown a full commutation to parole on Monday. Brown will be eligible for release Aug. 7 on time served and will stay on parole for 10 years.

“Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16,” Haslam said in a statement. “Yet, imposing a life sentence on a juvenile that would require her to serve at least 51 years before even being eligible for parole consideration is too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life.

“Transformation should be accompanied by hope.  So, I am commuting Ms. Brown’s sentence, subject to certain conditions.”

Brown will be required to participate in regular counseling sessions and to perform at least 50 hours of community service, including working with at-risk youth. She also will be required to get a job.

In a statement released by her lawyers, Brown thanked  Haslam “for your act of mercy in giving me a second chance. I will  do everything I can to justify your faith in me.”

“With God’s help, I am committed to live the rest of my life helping others, especially young people. My hope is to help other young girls avoid ending up where I have been.”

The governor’s long-awaited decision, handed down during his last days in office, brought a dramatic conclusion to Brown’s plea for mercy, which burst onto the national stage as celebrities and criminal justice reform advocates discovered her case.

In his commutation, the governor called Brown’s case one that “appears to me to be a proper one for the exercise of executive clemency.”

“Over her more than fourteen years of incarceration, Ms. Brown has demonstrated extraordinary growth and rehabilitation,” the commutation said.

It was a remarkable victory for Brown after years of legal setbacks.

Brown said she was forced into prostitution and was scared for her life when she shot 43-year-old Johnny Allen in the back of the head while they were in bed together.

Allen, a local real estate agent, had picked her up at an East Nashville Sonic restaurant and taken her to his home.

Brown, now 30, was tried as an adult and convicted of first-degree murder in 2006. She was given a life sentence. Had Haslam declined to intervene, Brown would not have been eligible for parole until she was 69.

The state parole board, which considered Brown’s case in 2018, gave the governor a split recommendation, with some recommending early release and some recommending she stay in prison.

Lawyers for Brown applauded the governor’s decision.

“This is truly a joyful moment — for Cyntoia and for all of us who have worked to help her,” the statement from Charles Bone and J.Houston Gordon, Brown’s lead attorneys.

“The governor’s decision is proof that our justice system works and it marks the beginning” of a new chapter for Cyntoia.

In recent years, celebrities have highlighted her case, fueling intense interest and a renewed legal fight to get her out of prison.

Activists, lawmakers and celebrities, including Rihanna and Kim Kardashian West, have cited Brown’s case as an illustration of a broken justice system. Brown was a victim herself, they said, and didn’t deserve her punishment.

Her impending release sets the stage for her to join their ranks.

During her time in prison, Brown completed her GED and got a college degree from Lipscomb University. Her allies say she hopes to apply her education by supporting social justice issues through her own nonprofit.

The Cyntoia Brown story

AUGUST 2004
Nashville real estate agent Johnny Allen is found naked with a gunshot wound to the back of his head in his Mossdale Drive home. Brown, 16, told police he picked her up at a Sonic Drive-in. Brown said she was a teen prostitute and shot Allen, 43, because she thought he was reaching for a gun under his bed.

AUGUST 2006
A jury convicts Brown of first-degree murder and robbery.

OCTOBER 2006
Brown is sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. State officials said the law dictated that she serve at least 51 years before becoming eligible for release. Prosecutors pushed for more time because of aggravated robbery and other factors in the crime.

MARCH 2011
PBS documentary “Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story” airs nationally, bringing new attention to Brown’s case.

JUNE 2012
U.S. Supreme Court rules that mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles violate Eighth Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment. 

NOVEMBER 2012
Defense attorneys push for new trial and introduce new evidence about Brown suffering fetal alcohol syndrome. 

NOVEMBER 2017
Superstar musician Rihanna again brings attention to Brown’s case with the #FREECYNTOIABROWN Instagram post.

MAY 2018
The state board of parole gives Gov. Bill Haslam a split recommendation on Brown’s application for clemency.

Two members vote to recommend that the governor grant clemency, allowing for her release from prison. Two vote to recommend that Haslam deny her clemency bid, meaning she would continue to serve a life sentence. Two others recommend the governor reduce Brown’s sentence so she could be released after 25 years.

The split recommendations are not binding — the governor can handle the case however he chooses.

JUNE 2018
Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals hears argument on whether Brown’s life sentence is constitutional. During the hearing, Brown’s lawyers said state sentencing laws conflicted, making it unclear if Brown would be required to serve 51 years or life without parole. The panel of judges agreed Tennessee’s sentencing laws were confusing and contradictory.

JULY 2018
Haslam receives a copy of parole board’s report, which is thousands of pages long. His legal team begins its review of the case.

AUGUST 2018
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals asks Tennessee’s Supreme Court to clarify Tennessee’s seemingly contradicting sentencing laws. 

DECEMBER 2018
The Tennessee Supreme Court issues a unanimous decision that says defendants convicted of first-degree murder on or after July 1, 1995, and sentenced to life in prison become eligible for release after serving a minimum of 51 years in prison. Their answer will inform the deliberations at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Haslam says his team is still considering Brown’s clemency petition. He expects to announce a decision before leaving office in January.

 

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Featured Professional: Attorney, Marirose Roach

As important as it is to recognize business owners and entrepreneurs, it is just as important to recognize the professionals and service providers who are excelling in their different fields of practice. Marirose Roach is one such professional.
Marirose is a partner with Philadelphia based, Roach-Leite. She is passionate about fighting for the rights of spouses and children, providing legal representation in divorce, custody and support cases.

Marirose Roach – Attorney (Philadelphia)

Marirose Roach
Attorney Marirose Roach

Why did you decide to practice law?

My mom wanted me to become a doctor or a lawyer.  I can’t stomach the sight of blood, so becoming an attorney was the default.  I was intrigued by the law from a young age.  I always wanted to help people and I felt that law would be an effective vehicle to do so.

What do you wish you had known about the legal profession before becoming an attorney?

They do not teach you how to become an attorney in law school.  Well, at least they didn’t when I was there.  There is a great deal of practical education that you do on the job.  Once out of law school, it is crucial to surround yourself with people that will make you great.
 

Your firm specializes in different types of law. Which do you enjoy the most and why?

It varies, each area has it’s pros and cons.  ​Each case is a window into a stranger’s life.  When you learn about their household, family, friends and struggles and can help them come out with a positive result, it feels absolutely amazing.  It’s a constant reminder of why I decided to practice law.

What do you do in your off time when you aren’t “lawyering”?

I’m a kid and an athlete at heart.  I still play in several recreational adult sport leagues.  It’s a great way to network and relieve stress.  When I’m not playing or working, I spend time with family and cook.

Where do you see your firm in the next 5 years?

We are currently going through a growth spurt at the firm.  ​In five years, if we continue this growth, I’d like to increase our support staff and strategize  marketing to refine the practice and be more efficient in how we target clients.

What advice do you have for students contemplating the legal profession?​

Get to know yourself and hone in on what you are truly passionate about.  Having a legal degree can create opportunities for change, but it’s a grind.  Be ready for a challenge.

Contact info:
Roach Leite LLC
6950 Castor Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19149
Telephone: (267) 343-5818

-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson (@thebusyafrican)