Few Hispanic business owners got coronavirus relief loans, Latino survey finds

A survey of more than 500 Latino small-business owners who applied for coronavirus relief loans found that just 97 of them received money while the rest have never heard back on their applications.

The League of United Latin American Citizens and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce conducted the survey that was sent to members of both organizations and that solicited responses publicly.

The organizations weeded out responses from people who were not Latino small-business owners. Of 871 responses received Friday morning, 546 were Latino small-business owners.

“The survey only confirms what we already know, that the Paycheck Protection Program money went to Wall Street billionaires and very little of it trickled to the mom-and-pop shops and small businesses of America,” LULAC National President Domingo García said. “Lupita’s taqueria or Juana’s quinceañera shop didn’t get money while Ruth’s Chris (Steakhouse) and major hotel chains are getting millions of dollars.”

The Ruth’s Chris chain announced Thursday it is returning its $20 million small-business loan from the program after heavy backlash.

The survey asked whether the owners applied for and whether they got a loan from the $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program created by Congress to provide forgivable loans to small businesses so they could pay and continue to employ their workers during the coronavirus crisis.

The program ran out of money in 13 days, leaving many small businesses standing in line with pending applications or cut off from applying.

The majority of the Latino business owners who applied for the loans did so through their existing bank or lender, the survey found. Major banks where Latinos applied included Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Frost Bank and PNC.

None of the 31 who applied to Wells Fargo were approved. NBC News has reached out to Wells Fargo for comment.

“It was HORRIBLE!” a business owner said in the survey. “I have been with Wells Fargo my whole business life, 30 years and they did nothing to help me! I felt like I have been used!”

Wells Fargo said in a statement is “working as quickly as possible” to prepare applications from small business customers for the latest round of funding Congress provided. The bank said it has mobilized thousands of employees and launched new technology to get their applications processed.

There were 198 respondents who said that they did not apply for loans. These included people who said they tried and gave up, frustrated by a cumbersome process, or said they didn’t know about the loans or how to go about getting them, said Juan Proaño, co-founder and CEO of Plus Three, a technology company that analyzed the survey data.

Proaño was among the first to apply for a loan at Bank of America, but faced trouble getting an application before the bank changed some eligibility criteria. Also, emails regarding the loan were sent to his company by a third party they didn’t recognize and ended up in a spam folder. His application is pending, he said.

Frost Bank, based in the majority Latino city of San Antonio, approved the greatest share of the loans and the highest number with 60 percent or 6 of 10 approved, the survey found.

It was followed by PNC Bank, which approved 14 percent or 1 of 7 applications; JPMorgan Chase, 12 percent or 5 of 42; and Bank of America, 11 percent or 5 of 44 applications.

Some of the banks added in their own restrictions to government criteria for the loans, including requiring applicants to have an existing loan or a line of credit with the bank to apply.

“Latinos have historically been redlined and denied loans to start and maintain businesses since the early 1900s and we are seeing that tradition today,” Garcia said.

The survey data release comes the day after Congress approved a second small-business relief package of $484 billion, which has been criticized by community lenders who provide loans to Latino and other minority and women small-business owners and for “distressed” and rural area. The lenders said the bill set aside too little money for such “underserved” proprietors.

Experts have said that Latino wealth and income, which had just been rebuilt to where it was before the Great Recession, could be decimated by the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis.

LULAC and other Latino organizations had pressed Congress to set aside $50 billion for minority businesses in the small-business relief package that the House approved Thursday. LULAC is a civil rights organization founded in 1929 to combat discrimination, including economic racism.

“They failed again,” Garcia said. “It’s a pay-to-play scheme to deny Latino businesses the same opportunities that others have.”

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