Funds through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)--the nearly $670 billion forgivable loan program aimed at struggling small businesses, which phased out on August 8--didn't make it to everyone, least of all minority-led businesses.

That's the key finding of several recently released reports on minority-led companies' access to capital during the early stages of the pandemic. In just one study, from the New York Federal Reserve: In the 30 counties with the highest concentration of Black-owned businesses, most counties reported that between 15 percent and 20 percent of firms received PPP loans. While that range doesn't depart much from the national average of 17.7 percent, there are significant variations across counties. For example, only 7 percent of firms in the Bronx, a borough of New York City, and 11.6 percent of firms in Wayne County, Michigan, received these loans.

The results are even less positive in the South and Midwest. Black- and Latinx-owned businesses represent about one-fifth of all companies in Alabama, but received just 7 percent of PPP loans, according to a new report from Heartland Forward, a Bentonville, Arkansas-based nonprofit focused on improving economic performance in the Midwest. Other states, including Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wisconsin, showed similarly skewed results.

The reasons for the disparities are manifold. Not only did Black- and Latinx-owned companies tend to enter the pandemic with weaker financial positions than White-owned companies, only a small minority of them had a recent borrowing relationship with a bank, according to the New York Fed report. 

Additionally, many Black- and Latinx-owned businesses don't have employees, putting them at a disadvantage when applying for the PPP. Despite being available to sole proprietors and contractors, the program didn't open to them until April 10, a week after the program began issuing funds.

While lawmakers remain divided over a Phase 4 stimulus bill, advocates and business lobby groups say it's imperative that minority-led companies get relief. Here are three ideas for improving their chances for survival now and in future crises.

1. Automate funding for CDFIs

Earlier this month, Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) introduced legislation that would create a new $2 billion crisis fund for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), which are private financial institutions that focus on offering affordable lending options to low-income and other disadvantaged communities. The fund, which would be replenished annually, would kick in if unemployment levels hit certain thresholds or if a natural disaster strikes. As natural and economic disasters tend to hit low-income communities and communities of color harder than wealthier communities, the hope is that the fund would offer an additional backstop to other crisis programs.

"This pandemic has shown us that when a crisis or a disaster strikes, families and communities need immediate support," said Senator Schatz in a press release about the bill. "By creating a crisis fund for CDFIs with automatic triggers, we can quickly provide aid to the people and small businesses that need it most."

2. Replenish relief funds

Introduced in mid-May, the Recharge and Empower Local Innovation and Entrepreneurs Fund (Relief) for Main Street Act, led by senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Steve Daines (R-MT), and Patty Murray (D-WA), would give $50 billion to cities, counties, and states to support small-business local relief funds. The funds may be operated by an array of stakeholders, including city and county governments, public authorities, philanthropies, financial institutions, and local chambers of commerce, so the distribution of resources means funds may reach a wider spectrum of businesses than if the funds were solely distributed through banks. 

Funding for block grants, operated by states and local governments, could also get replenished. The Cares Act initially provided $150 billion in federal aid to state and local governments across the country, some of which went toward grant funding for local businesses. 

3. Improve the runway

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in June released its Equality of Opportunity Agenda, a series of best practices for business owners and policy recommendations for federal, state, and local governments. The document included improving Black entrepreneurs' access to capital, launching pitch competitions for underrepresented communities, and increasing the presence of minority-owned businesses in corporate supply chains. Neil Bradley, the Chamber's executive vice president and chief policy officer, says that the pandemic has exacerbated and highlighted these racial gaps.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Chamber called on Congress to pass a slew of bills that address race-based opportunity gaps across education, employment, entrepreneurship, and criminal justice. This includes the Minority Business Development Act of 2019, which would permanently authorize the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), a federal agency that promotes the growth and competitiveness of minority-owned businesses. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate in July. 

"It's about attempting to address underlying, perpetual issues in our financial system," Bradley says.