'I have nothing': A small business owner struggles without first round of funding

Small business owners across the state never received funding from SBA loans and aren't optimistic about the second batch

"For Sale By Owner" and "Closed Due to Virus" signs.
"For Sale By Owner" and "Closed Due to Virus" signs are displayed in the window of Images On Mack in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., on April 2, 2020.
Paul Sancya | AP file

Like many small business owners around the state, Kemi Lawani is experiencing unprecedented hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have nothing,” Lawani said.

Kemi Lawani Small business owner
Kemi Lawani is the owner of Bonitas Extensions and Braids in Minneapolis.
Courtesy of Kemi Lawani

Lawani, who immigrated from Nigeria, is the owner of Bonita’s Extensions and Braids in Minneapolis.

She said she tried to apply for the first round of Small Business Administration loans created through the CARES Act to help small businesses during the shutdown.

Her business didn’t receive any of the funding, and she’s been without income for over a month 

“It's rejection from left, rejection from the right,” she said, adding that she submitted her application and all required information on time. “Nobody is giving any answers.”

The only thing she’s been told is that funds were depleted. Last month, Congress appropriated $350 billion for small business loans. Within three weeks, the fund was out of money. Now Congress is working to replenish the fund. 

Like Lawani, many small businesses didn’t get their share. 

“I happen to run a business that I have subcontractors, so they are in the same boat,” she said. “They're all getting rejected.”

To make up for the loss of income, Lawani said she’s turned to delivering food through DoorDash. But it isn’t enough.  

“A lot of us are going to the food shelter now to get food,” she said. “I've been [in the United States] for 18 years, never stepped into a food shelter, but my kids are not going to starve.”

The Senate unanimously passed a bill Tuesday that would provide emergency loans to small businesses and funding for hospitals and testing. The new $484 billion coronavirus relief package would provide an additional $320 billion to replenish the Small Business Association’s Paycheck Protection Program that Lawani applied for.

Minnesota U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, a Democrat, said in a statement, “while the package replenishes the small business loan fund and sends needed resources to hospitals, I don’t think our work responding to this pandemic is done.” 

Lawani isn’t too optimistic even with a second batch of loans coming, but she said she’s survived worse.

“You have no choice but to keep it together, that's all you can do.” she said

Click on the audio player above to hear Tom Crann’s interview with Kemi Lawani on All Things Considered.

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