Pennsylvania’s $225M in grants for small businesses will give priority to those with the most needs

Cherri Gregg
June 12, 2020 - 7:00 pm
Philadelphia barbers gather at the Art Museum to lobby for increased COVID-19 funding access

Cherri Gregg/KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio)  This week, Gov. Tom Wolf announced that Pennsylvania would provide $225 million in grants for small businesses impacted by COVID-19. Those with the most needs get priority.

About half of the $225 million will be reserved for "historically disadvantaged businesses.” Owners can apply for grants ranging from $5,000 to $50,000, and those hit hardest will get to be first in line. 

“You can provide some detail about the impact that COVID-19 has had on your business,” said Sen. Vincent Hughes, Democratic chair of the Pennsylvania Senate Appropriations Committee.

He said 17 community development financial institutions will be in charge of distributing the grants.

“They’re in the neighborhoods,” he said. “They’re working with these businesses in a very detailed way so they have an understanding of what’s happening.”

The effort comes, in part, thanks to lobbying from a group of barbershop and hair salon owners. 

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They began joining forces soon after realizing that the Small Business Administration’s PPP loans excluded barbers, hair stylists, nail technicians and other service-focused industry professionals who have been shut down because of the coronavirus for three months.

“We’re in need of support and we’ve been promised that support by elected officials,” said Darryl Thomas, owner of Philly Cuts, a barbershop in West Philadelphia.

He and several others organized the coalition and went on Zoom calls with state officials, including Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, during the height of the pandemic. 

They highlighted problems with the system of distribution of relief funding and also raised awareness about the skills long held by barbers and others around infection control.

“We want to make sure we show a unified front to make sure people know there are other ways to fight besides protesting alone,” said Kenny Duncan, who owns Main Attraction Unisex Salon. “We have been banning together in an organized fashion to make sure that we will be made whole after this shut down.”

Duncan said the group was hit hard, being forced to shut down during their most lucrative months with events like Easter, Mother’s Day, prom and graduations.

“This has been a true dream of mine to see barbers and hair stylists come together,” said Kyasha Woods, owner of Lux Lab Philly. “With everybody lobbying and with everybody doing the work, we believe it’s coming through.”

Woods and others say it’s the first time that so many independent business owners were forced to come together.

“Individually, we were trying to speak out and get help,” said Natalie McNeal, who owns Ends Hair and Day Spa in Northern Liberties. “We realized if we came together, it made our voice larger and louder. It has helped us to accomplish a lot.”

Barbershops and hair salons are pillars of the black community. The businesses help sponsor little leagues and other community efforts, and to lose them would have a devastating effect.

‘You have to care about others, that’s what makes the world go round,” said McNeal.

They want to ensure that their businesses are saved.

“We can’t come back until the state turns green. At this point, we don’t know when that will be,” said Thomas. “We had to work together.”

The new source of state funding should be available by the end of June. 

The barbers and hairstylists hope they are first in line.