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America’s small-business owners are struggling to survive the pandemic and the government-imposed lockdowns. And white, male business owners have an added problem: While politicians are offering loans and grants to minority- and female-owned businesses, they could care less about helping those guilty of the “sin” of being born white and male.
What’s next? Tax breaks for women and minorities, and higher rates for white men? Criminal laws that only apply to white men? Government programs shouldn’t discriminate. We’re all guaranteed equal treatment under the law.
President Biden hasn’t received that memo, apparently. He won the election vowing to unify a divided nation. Yet his 27-page plan to “build back better by advancing racial equity” proposes dozens of taxpayer-funded programs for businesses owned “by black and brown people”; there is no mention of white-owned businesses.
That’s bound to provoke resentment. More racism can’t cure racism.
Biden pledges to close the wealth and earnings gaps between whites and minorities. Bravo. Who can argue with wanting all Americans to succeed? The question is how. Former President Donald Trump narrowed the gap and boosted the wages of working-class people of all races. And he did it by promoting growth and tight labor markets, not with racist preferences.
In 2019, before the pandemic struck, the earnings gap between whites and minorities shrank, and poverty among blacks and Hispanics tumbled to its lowest-ever-recorded rate. Home ownership and net worth for blacks and Hispanics rose. All without doling out government help based on skin color and ethnicity.
Biden’s plan, on the other hand, barely mentions growth. His approach is about rigging the system — delivering benefits to favored groups.
Several states controlled by Democrats are also putting race and gender ahead of fairness. Last May, Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched the New York Forward Loan Fund “focusing on minority- and women-owned small businesses.” The program requires that 60 percent of the taxpayer-funded loans go to minority- and women-owned enterprises, double their share of the state’s businesses. That puts white, male business owners at a disadvantage. It’s probably unconstitutional, violating the 14th Amendment’s guarantee that we all be treated equally.
When Oregon state politicians reserved a pot of COVID-19 relief money for black residents and black business owners only, a white logging-company owner who was hemorrhaging money because of lockdowns sued the state and succeeded in getting the discriminatory program halted until the case is decided.
Similarly, after Colorado awarded COVID-19 relief funds to minority businesses only, a white barber-shop owner sued, insisting on his right to be treated equally under the law.
New Jersey is considering legislation to provide $50 million to aid minority businesses, while refusing aid for non-minority businesses. If that passes, the Garden State should be sued, too.
Minority-owned businesses have been hit especially hard during the pandemic, but there are ways to help without screaming “whites need not apply.”
When the first round of Paycheck Protection Program loans was launched last spring, small businesses that lacked an existing relationship with a bank had trouble applying, including many minority-owned businesses. But by late summer, that problem was largely solved by outreach efforts. Federal data show that as of Dec. 1, more than half of all Paycheck Protection funding went to businesses in distressed or low- to moderate-income neighborhoods.
Vice President Kamala Harris has proposed “navigators” to pilot business owners who are least savvy about banking through the loan-application process. That’s also a good idea.
Aid should go first to enterprises that support jobs, regardless of the owner’s race. COVID relief is supposed to protect paychecks. A staggering 2.1 million of the 2.6 million black-owned enterprises in the nation have no employees, just an owner, according to the US Black Chambers, a business group.
Propping up businesses without workers because they’re minority-owned, in preference to businesses with employees, is foolish. Cuomo’s minority-focused loan program suffers from that problem.
Congress is drafting the next COVID-relief bill now. To foster unity and treat all Americans equally, legislators need to help businesses without regard to race or gender. Businesses hit hardest should get the relief. Yes, even businesses owned by that despised and politically disfavored group: white men.
Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York.
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