When she opened her salon business in 2008, Sherri Latae Walker wasn’t worried about the recession raging at the time. But this year’s coronavirus pandemic?

“Now that ... that’s been surreal,” said Walker, whose West Philly shop aims to be about “Lavishing Queens in All Things Couture.” “For 12 years, I’ve had a lot of success and some form of control. Never this. It’s a business owner’s worst nightmare.”

Walker was among the first recipients of a grant from internet payments giant PayPal to fund the reopening of her salon. She’s also among a vast group of struggling minority business owners turning to nonprofits and corporate America for grant support in part because government programs require long waits or red tape.

Comcast in June said it was developing a “multiyear plan to allocate $100 million to fight injustice and inequality. ” That included $75 million in cash and $25 million in advertising distributed over the next three years. Walmart, Google and Apple each committed $100 million in June to increasing spending with Black-owned suppliers and professional partners. Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company will take “significant new steps” on diversity and inclusion in hiring.

PayPal pledged far more — $530 million nationally for minority business owners — starting with $10 million for grants to Black-owned businesses and $5 million for nonprofit community partners to distribute. The $530 million includes investing directly into Black and minority-led businesses and investment funds. PayPal doesn’t have a timeline for when it will disburse the full amount.

As of July 13, PayPal had awarded more than 360 grants totaling about $3.1 million. PayPal received about 60,000 applications nationwide, and has closed applications for now.

“We’re hoping to disburse $10 million by the end of the month,” said company spokeswoman Janine Kamwene. “We recognize the critical challenge of access to capital that Black-owned businesses face and, as part of our larger commitment, are working with nonprofit partners” including Women’s Opportunity Resource Center in Center City.

As for Walker, “I heard from one of my salon clients in corporate America” about the PayPal grants for Black-owned businesses, she said.

She had applied for a Paycheck Protection Program loan through PNC “and it was taking weeks. I was discouraged.” The PPP loans are administered through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Her PayPal grant for $7,500 “might seem like a drop in the bucket, but it’s a big drop. I lost over $50,000, so it’s helped me to make three months’ payment on commercial rent immediately.”

She finally did receive a PPP loan this past week, and was able to bring back two of her five employees. She reopened Sherri Latae’s Salon Couture on July 1, and now accepts only four to five clients a day. Scheduling demanding clients is “overwhelming. Women don’t like to hear no, and I’m a people-pleaser. It’s hard not to give them what they want.”

But “as fast as the money’s coming in, it’s going to bills, insurance, tax payments,” said the owner of the salon, set across from Overbrook High School at 5899 Lancaster Ave.

PayPal said the Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO) in Washington is overseeing the $10 million and administering $10,000 grants to 1,000 Black-owned businesses across the country. Although grant applications are closed, “we’re encouraging people to join the AEO email list to stay connected about future funding opportunities,” PayPal’s spokeswoman said.

Paypal set aside $5 million in grants to strengthen business owners with microloans, technical assistance, mentoring, and access to digital solutions to speed recovery from the pandemic. The Women’s Opportunities Resource Center, at 20th and Chestnut Streets, got a $50,000 grant connected to this project. The group was one of 10 community-oriented nonprofit lenders to get those grants, including Baltimore Business Lending, Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives microfinance group, and the Nebraska Enterprise Fund.

Why are major corporations setting up these grant programs nationally? In part, companies may be listening to their diverse customers while at the same time “virtue-signalling,” experts said.

“This is so unprecedented in my career. I’ve never quite seen anything like this, except during disasters, but never around social justice,” said Eileen Heisman, head of National Philanthropic Trust in Jenkintown. “It was a harder area to raise money for, and until now didn’t trigger interest in the same way.”

“Will this corporate giving do any good? Yes,” she added. “Will it be measurable? Hard to say. How do you know what works unless you try it? The jury’s out until a year or two passes.”

Day care reopening

Laverne Cheeseboro runs a group child-care program in Southwest Philadelphia and applied for a grant because she didn’t want to take on a loan through the SBA’s PPP initiative.

“I’m not a believer in debt. I’ve been licensed since 2013 and I want to stay debt free,” she said. Cheeseboro also didn’t apply for unemployment. She turned to a Facebook group called Buy It Back Black! and her Community College of Philadelphia alumnae network to research business grants for her company, Heavenly Made Creations Childcare.

“Child care isn’t considered essential. But it should be,” she said. She received one grant from the City of Philadelphia for $2,500 but it wasn’t enough to reopen.

Through CCP’s PowerUp program, she heard about the PayPal grant program, and used her $10,000 grant to reopen July 6.

“I installed a filtration system, diffusers, changed the way we ‘container’ things. We have tops on toy boxes, and at my door we take temperatures, have the kids wash at a portable sink and take off their shoes. Only then can they come in and play freely.”

“I did an assessment with parents and to do it right it was too expensive to open in June. We weren’t getting the financial support for supplies. I made a decision to push back the date. Now, I’m excited and glad to see my babies.”

She’s also disinfecting the toys each night and deep cleaning every week, which requires extra help and expense.

“With the $10,000, I’m able to pay people at a reasonable pay scale.”

Laverne Cheeseboro applied for a PayPal grant to reopen her Southwest day-care center.
Courtesy Laverne Chees
Laverne Cheeseboro applied for a PayPal grant to reopen her Southwest day-care center.

Other grant programs

·PA30 Day Fund. Designed to be quick, easy, and free of red tape. Small-business owners work to keep employees on board in the near term. Learn more at pa30dayfund.com.

COVID-19 Relief Pa. Statewide Business Assistance Round 1

Applications for Round 1 are closed, but Round 2 will open in early August. Eligible businesses must have gross annual revenue of $1 million or less and have 25 or fewer full-time equivalent employees. The business must be based in Pennsylvania. Applications are submitted through the online lender Lendistry.com. For information: https://pabusinessgrants.com

Pennsylvania $50 million grants for front-line workers

Employers offering hazard pay to employees in life-sustaining occupations can apply for state grant funding to help cover the cost, Gov. Tom Wolf said Thursday. The state will provide $50 million in total; employers can apply for up to $3 million in grant money and up to $1,200 per full-time equivalent employee.

Applications can be submitted at www.esa.dced.state.pa.us through July 31. The Department of Community and Economic Development can be reached with questions at (717) 787-6245 or by email: ra-dcedcbf@pa.gov.

Paycheck Protection Program (PPP ) loan

The deadline to apply to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has been extended until Aug. 8. The loans can be mostly forgiven, according to updated rules. To apply, submit your application through a lender (www.sba.gov).

Food/grocery/market grants

The Fresh Food Financing Initiative COVID-19 Relief Fund — funded through the federal CARES Act — is available to for-profit, nonprofit, and cooperative entities affected by COVID-19, including groceries, corner stores, convenience stores, neighborhood markets, bodegas and farmers markets.

To be eligible, more than half of sales must be from staples and perishables, and the business must serve customers in low- to moderate-income areas. Applicants must also accept SNAP and WIC. For eligibility, visit the website: agriculture.pa.gov/foodsecurity.