MOORESVILLE – As many small businesses struggle to keep their doors open across the nation during this downturn, Lowe’s Companies has opened its first round of grant applications in its previously announced $25 million fund to provide much-needed relief to minority-owned businesses.

Lowe’s said the donation will fuel emergency grants “in historically underserved communities,” as well as other assistance to help owners navigate business challenges during the pandemic.

Among the offerings: paying rent and utilities; meeting payroll; paying outstanding debt to vendors; upgrading technology infrastructure and other immediate operational costs

The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), the nation’s largest community development organization, will manage the process of vetting applications for grants that will bring critical aid to minority- and women-led small businesses.

“Lowe’s has been committed to helping minority small business owners – the very backbone of our economy – rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic’s devastating impact,” said Lowe’s President and CEO Marvin Ellison, in a statement.

Feds launch Main Street Lending Program – loans start at $250,000

Even in the best of times, minority-owned businesses face a tougher time gaining access to capital. But during a pandemic, many say it’s getting even harder. Lack of resources and access to networks, along with the government’s “first come, first serve” policy, is causing them to bear the brunt.

The Center for Responsible Lending, a non-profit group that combats abusive lending practices, says roughly 95 percent of black-owned businesses, 91 percent of latino-owned businesses and 75 percent of asian-owned businesses stand “close to no chance” of receiving a PPP loan through a mainstream bank or credit union.

“Helping people make their homes better extends beyond our walls and into our neighborhoods, communities and country,” Ellison added. “These grants will help minority- and women-led small businesses, many of which have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. This commitment is far more than a moment in time – it’s a reflection of who we have been and will continue to be as a company.”

Based in Mooresville, N.C., Lowe’s is a Fortune 50 home improvement company serving approximately 18 million customers a week in the United States and Canada. Last year, it processed sales of $72.1 billion.

LISC President and CEO Maurice A. Jones applauded Lowe’s ongoing commitment to small business owners.

“The need for this kind of relief is overwhelming,” said Jones.

He noted that when LISC began offering small business rapid relief grants in April, it saw more than 50,000 applications in just the first four days, and another 200,000 for subsequent funding. Two-thirds of the initial applicants are businesses owned by minorities, veterans and women. Forty percent are in distressed locations, and nearly half have been in business for more than 10 years.

“Our country’s small businesses are the backbones of rural and urban communities,” Jones said. “They require capital, right now, if they are to continue to provide vital goods and services to their customers and help drive long-term recovery and growth. We are grateful to Lowe’s for their strong commitment to doing just that.”

All applications must be submitted by Wednesday, June 17.

All applicants will be linked to a customized, state-by-state resource guide on how to navigate federal, state and local assistance programs and private financing as well as resources available through LISC and our network of local and national small business support organizations.

To date, LISC has raised more than $17 million for COVID-19 rapid relief grants and helped 955 organizations access $91 million in federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans—including nearly 200 PPP loans funded by LISC. LISC’s COVID-19 efforts continue to focus on support for small businesses and nonprofits led by women and minorities in economically vulnerable communities.

Black-led businesses getting shut out of PPP loan program, owners and experts say