ABC News Coronavirus Small Business

DC small business owner struggling to get PPP funds during coronavirus crisis

The first round of PPP funds ran out before Rahama Wright could get any.

The last two months have been some of the most difficult of Rahama Wright's career.

For 15 years, Wright has run Shea Yeleen, a beauty brand located in Washington, D.C. Birthed out of a passion to empower women in sub-Saharan Africa, her staff of five helps distribute shea butter products. In turn, they provide jobs for 800 women in Ghana. Since the pandemic started, she's had to make drastic changes.

"Now I'm trying figure out how to continue to run the businesses with about 80% of my revenue being slashed," Wright said.

Most of her business comes through sales from her stores – one on H Street and a kiosk at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. She also generated considerable revenue from a partnership with a resort. She's since had to furlough all five of her staff and close her main storefront. She also applied for federal help.

"When I heard about the stimulus package and the government rallying to support small businesses, I immediately started applying," Wright said.

She said a few weeks after her first application, the funding ran out. When Congress replenished the fund, she tried again.

"My strategy was to apply to as many places as I could," Wright told ABC News.

She was in the process of completely shutting down her business until a small bank approved her for a Paycheck Protection Program loan last Friday.

"I 100% feel like I got lucky," Wright said.

She estimates the funding will give her a three to four month runout and allow her to bring back three of her staff members. Her storefront will remain closed as she boosts her online presence.

In the latest round of PPP funding, Congress set aside $30 billion for lenders like community development financial institutions, meant specifically to help low-income and the underbanked. An additional $30 billion was reserved for small banks, which tend to serve the smallest businesses.

The allocation of these PPP funds has been a topic of debate since the program rolled out in early April. Businesses that already had established relationships with banks got approved over others. The program has drawn criticism from lawmakers on both sides who say those that need the funding the most aren't getting it quickly enough, if at all. Thus far, the Small Business Administration has not released detailed data on the businesses receiving these taxpayer funds.

It's been a different story for Marcel Benson. He runs the Benson Watch Company out of Lanham, Maryland. It's a family run business with a handful of contractors.

"Our company has grown about three times" during the pandemic, he said.

He attributes the company's success to being an online business and customers being home shopping more. His growth has been so great he opted not to apply for a PPP loan.

"I just thought about the amount of people that will not be receiving the funds that actually need it," Benson said. "I'm sure there are people who are barely holding on that want to retain their employees. Let's just step back and allow people that need it to get it as much as they can."

While things are good for Benson, he still has COVID-19 concerns. It's impacted his supply chain.

"It's something we're keeping our eye on," Benson said. "We may be sold out before we're able to get a new inventory."

Benson knows how crucial it is to keep momentum. As Wright put it, there's so much riding on the success of businesses like hers and Benson's.

"Businesses like mine absolutely have to survive because we are investing in a world that's making financial inclusion a priority," she said.

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