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Madison’s Black-owned businesses cope with pandemic’s deepening impact

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6 BLACK OWNED BUSINESSES HIT HARD .transfer_frame_1470

MADISON (WKOW) - Madison's dozens of Black-owned businesses are coping with the pandemic's deepening impact, with some affected uniquely as a minority enterprise.

Black-owned small businesses are twice as likely to shutter as small businesses overall during the coronavirus pandemic, because they suffer from pre-existing vulnerabilities, according to a study released earlier this year by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The study cites weaker financial cushions and bank relationships as among the factors putting Black-owned firms on more precarious ground.

Madison registered nurse Rita Johnson started her home health care firm RMS Global Care in October 2019, before ventilators dominated COVID-19 treatments early in the pandemic. "Most of our clients are on ventilators," Johnson says. "We serve children and adults on ventilators."

But her motivation to start the company forecast what's become one of the most devastating parts of the COVID-19 experience.

"People started in our community, they started dying alone and not having the resources that they needed and I knew I had to something about it," Johnson says.

Johnson's business model relies on recruiting and training family members of clients to become paid care-givers. "We're just starting to train people up," she says. Johnson says the pandemic has slowed the integration of people into the work. "We have to be very, very cautious because our patients are already on life support."

Johnson says her status as a Black business owner has not hindered her economic opportunity during these challenging times. She says issues with government reimbursement have been difficult. "We are getting paid through the federal government and it's very hard for them to pay us at this time," Johnson says. "It's been times we haven't gotten paid for three months to six months. It's very hard to survive like that."

Michael Anderson's long time Madison home improvement business, Anderson Repairs is facing a new obstacle. He says the risk of the coronavirus is shrinking his work force.

"People are terrified of leaving their homes and going to a job site and getting sick and then taking it back home to their families," Anderson says.

Anderson also says race has emerged more prominently in the industry, as competitors try to claim incentives reserved for business owners such as himself. "They put the company in their wife's name so they can be a minority company, so they can gets bids on certain jobs," Anderson says.

Madison Black Chamber of Commerce President Camille Carter says the bulk of member businesses are experiencing the same uncertainty and obstacles as all other small businesses in this pandemic.

"Our businesses continue to struggle with how to re-engage with their customers and how to recoup lost revenues," Carter says. "They've pivoted as much as possible without closing their doors completely. Many look forward to a new administration and hopefully a new stimulus package to help them into the first quarter as the vaccine rolls out. They need our support," Carter says.

Even as she tries to ride out the difficult beginning to a second year in business, Johnson says the needs of her vulnerable, sometimes critically ill, homebound clients must be met.

"I don't want to see people dying alone," Johnson says. "I want to be there holding their hands and helping them through it. You should have somebody by your side."

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Tony Galli

Reporter, WKOW

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