The Black Business Association is displaying advertising on five billboards in Memphis promoting COVID-19 relief funds for personal care workers. At the time of publication, the URL displayed on the billboard directed to an error page on Photo courtesy of the Black Business Association

The City of Memphis and three nonprofits have until the end of the year to give away about $7.5 million in coronavirus relief funds before the remaining balance will have to be sent back to the federal government.

The funds at stake are targeted toward workers and small businesses whose services are disproportionately hindered by the pandemic, such as barbers, cosmetologists and restaurant workers. 

The City Council budget committee Tuesday morning sought to speed up the fund distribution by unanimously recommending that the maximum grant amounts for two programs be increased. The full council will consider the recommendation Tuesday afternoon.

Related: Rising coronavirus cases delay a return to business as usual for barbers, stylists

The City of Memphis Small Business Stabilization Program has about $3.5 million left, the Black Business Association of Memphis has about $1.1 million, the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association about $2.5 million and Welcome to Memphis has about $397,000, totaling almost $7.5 million that must be spent within 45 days.

Apply for relief funds

Black Business Association: Relief is for personal care workers affected by COVID-19, such as cosmetologists, barbers, nail technicians, massage therapists, personal trainers, make-up artists and aestheticians. Applications are submitted on the association’s website.

MIFA has one-time grants of $800 in utility assistance and $800 in rent/mortgage assistance to Memphians who have been laid off or had their hours reduced due to the pandemic. Applications are submitted on the MIFA website.

Welcome to Memphis funds are marked for hospitality workers who have been terminated or furloughed because of the pandemic in industries such as hotels, restaurants, bars, tourist attractions, convention services and tour operations. Applications are submitted on the Welcome to Memphis website.

For small business applications, go to the Small Business Stabilization Program website for information or call 901-636-9300.

Under the present guidelines, the BBA and Welcome to Memphis have a $300 cap on the amount of money allowed for each applicant. The new guidelines raise that cap to $1,000 for the BBA and $600 for Welcome to Memphis.

Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act in March, allocating billions of dollars toward aiding Americans through the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. The City of Memphis received roughly $113 million in aid, a portion of which the city gave to organizations to be distributed to individuals and small businesses.

Councilman Martavius Jones, chairman of the budget committee, said during the meeting that the existing grant limits were set before anyone knew the country would be on its third wave of an increase in coronavirus cases, and increasing the limits will not only help the city meet its deadline but also provide necessary help to Memphians.

“We thought these amounts would have addressed what the needs were at that particular time. Now that we’re at November and we know that businesses have not rebounded to where they were pre-COVID levels, I think that it only makes sense,” Jones said. “We increase the amount because the amount of time that businesses have suffered during this COVID period has lasted longer than we anticipated.”

“We’ve probably received 600 to 700 applications,” said Mark Yates, president and CEO of the Black Business Association, “so we’re now distributing the money, but we’re running against the clock.”

The BBA has several billboards and placed ads on local radio stations to help spread the word, and Yates has been hitting the pavement himself.

“I’ve been going door-to-door to beauty shops and barbershops, handing out flyers,” he said Monday.

The floor at Chopper City Barber Shop welcomed activity after it reopened its doors in May 2020. Personal care workers, like cosmetologists, barbers, nail technicians and massage therapists, are eligible for grants from the city’s remaining CARES Act funds that need to be distributed before the end of the year. Photo by Johnathan Martin.

The BBA’s relief is designated for personal care workers whose business has been affected by COVID-19, such as cosmetologists, barbers, nail technicians, massage therapists, personal trainers, make-up artists and aestheticians. Applications are submitted on the association’s website.

The BBA will also help residents apply at the Entrepreneurial Network Center at 480 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. Grant seekers are encouraged to make an appointment by calling 901-636-9300.

MIFA’s grant limit of $800, along with the Small Business Stabilization Program’s limit of $25,000, will remain the same.

The city approached MIFA and tasked the coalition of faith-based groups with distributing $3.5 million in rent, mortgage and utility assistance.

Ellen Whitten, Continuous Improvement Administrator for MIFA, said the organization has given away about a million dollars in assistance with $2.5 million to go, and have about 2,000 applications currently under review. This volume of applications, Whitten said, is more than what the organization usually sees for its non-CARES rent assistance program.

“There were moments when we were concerned we weren’t getting enough applicants, but we’ve seen roughly the same number of applicants since September that the team usually sees in half a year,” Whitten said. “The money could be essentially spent already.”

MIFA’s leaders said they have tapped into the organization’s religious and business networks to promote the resources. And they reassess aid amounts daily to ensure a steady flow of funds to Memphians who need help.

Caprice Snyder, MIFA’s chief operating officer, said she is confident MIFA is on track to spend the full grant before the December deadline.

“We’re used to this. We always scrape the bottom of the pot,” Snyder said. “That’s what we do and that’s what we do well. That’s why money like this comes to MIFA because we have a history of spending quickly, fairly, concisely and thoroughly.” 

Carrington Tatum is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.

Editor Wendi C. Thomas contributed to this report.

This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by these generous donors.

Got a story idea, a tip or feedback? Send an email to