The December Relief Bill: Supporting Small Businesses through the COVID Crisis

  • 1/21/2021
  • Jennifer DaSilva, Alex Stepick and Stephanie Charles
  • Start Small, Think Big

The authors assist small business owners at Start Small Think Big.

Lakou Cafe was one of five restaurants featured on The Tonight Show last Fall in celebration of National Small Business Week. Cassandre Davilmar’s shop is a staple in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, offering Caribbean-inspired fare, curated art shows and community. In March 2020, this thriving, Black- and woman-owned small business employed nine Black employees. In April 2020, with sales down 60% and New York on PAUSE, Lakou Cafe shut its doors.

    Cassandre was fortunate. Donor contributions allowed Lakou Cafe to reopen. Adaptability and creative thinking kept it going. The cafe sprang into action to donate meals to healthcare workers, first responders, families in need and protesters against police brutality. Cassandre and her colleagues moved furniture around to set up an outdoor dining space. They also launched a catering line for the cafe. Crucially, the business received a forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan. “The PPP loan enabled us to open our doors again,” she shares. “We were able to pay our employees and cover some operating costs.” 


Cassandre Davilmar, founder of Lakou Cafe

Cassandre Davilmar, founder of Lakou Cafe

    On January 11, over 150 days after it closed with billions of dollars left unused, the PPP re-opened. It is a core part of our mission at Start Small Think Big to assist, alongside our partners, small businesses struggling to stay afloat in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis and seeking much needed relief in this and other aid programs launched in the December stimulus bill.

Supporting Small Businesses through the Crisis

    Cassandre is a client at Start Small Think Big. We are a national nonprofit organization providing free legal, financial and marketing services to under-resourced small businesses across the country through a robust network of professional volunteers. In 2020, Start Small Think Big assisted close to 3500 small businesses. Of those small businesses that became clients, 95% are owned by people of color and/or women, and over 80% are micro businesses employing 10 or fewer employees. In early April, we launched a national Rapid Response Program to respond to pandemic-related emergency needs. This program has already served close to 1000 businesses, well over half of them with issues related to PPP loans.

    PPP consultations have given us valuable insight into challenges that the program, as originally designed, poses to small businesses, particularly Black- and other minority-owned micro businesses. In September of 2020, we alongside thirty-five partner organizations and individuals, wrote to Congress and encouraged others to do the same. We urged that Congress restart the PPP, including for second draw loans, and respond to the unique needs of Black-, Brown and women-owned micro-businesses to ensure equitable access to forgivable loans by: collecting demographic data for loan recipients; automatically forgiving qualifying loans under $150,000; earmarking funds for micro businesses employing 10 or fewer employees; tying maximum loan amount to business expenses; enhancing spending flexibility; and adequately funding PPP outreach and access.

    The December stimulus bill and related guidance restarts the PPP with key updates to the program and encouraging alignments with our recommendations for improvements. For instance, $15 billion in PPP loans are being set aside  for first draw loans to qualifying small businesses - including sole proprietors - with a maximum of 10 employees. In addition, $25 billion in PPP funds are being set aside for loans less than $250,000 to eligible borrowers in low-or moderate-income neighborhoods. These latest changes, along with the expanded eligible spending for loan forgiveness and simplified loan forgiveness process, may be critical in lowering barriers to access for those small businesses most in need of funding. Additional funding routes, including grant advances on Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) and the newly introduced “shuttered venue” grants are as crucial in helping to provide struggling small businesses a fighting chance.

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    Today, Lakou Cafe is open for limited outdoor dining, delivery, takeout, and catering services. With coronavirus cases at an all-time high across the U.S. however, the survival of Cassandre’s business remains at risk. It is a known fact that in its first iteration, the PPP failed to reach many qualified small businesses, overwhelmingly Black- and otherwise minority-owned and operating in underbanked communities. In September of 2020, it was estimated that close to 50% of Black-owned small businesses had either already permanently closed as a result of the COVID crisis, or would do so within six months. Deliberate and targeted outreach and technical assistance will continue to play a critical role in helping to bridge information and access gaps to much needed capital, particularly for underbanked and historically disenfranchised small businesses owners.

Lakou Cafe, located at 195 Utica Avenue in Brooklyn, NY

    On Tuesday, January 26 at 12 PM EST, Start Small Think Big and attorneys from Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, in collaboration with BE NYC, BOC Network, Brooklyn Navy Yard, the DC Department of Small and Local Business Development and the Queens Chamber of Commerce will host a free recorded webinar on small business aid made available in the December relief bill. Financial advisors from Start Small Think Big will share insight on issues in accessing capital, weighing funding options and navigating these uncertain times. We invite you to join us, and whenever you can, to continue to volunteer time and expertise to help support small businesses through this unprecedented crisis.

Webinar registration at

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