Erie County Business Grants: Whites Need Not Apply

Written by Johnathan Davis.

I n Erie County, a new funding approach has stirred significant discussion. The local government, aiming to address the economic disparities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, initiated a grant program exclusively for BIPOC-owned businesses. This decision was based on the perceived increased suffering of these groups during the pandemic. The specificity of the eligibility criteria—explicitly excluding white business owners from applying—has sparked debates on fairness and racial equity.

The grants, varying from $5,000 to $25,000, were distributed to 29 minority-owned small businesses. This initiative, spearheaded by Diverse Erie, seeks to foster equity and generational wealth within the BIPOC communities of Erie County. During an awards ceremony, Gary Lee, the Chief Administrative Officer of Diverse Erie, highlighted that the program’s aim was to catalyze economic development by bridging the equity gap that predominantly affects these communities. However, the exclusionary nature of the program led some to feel sidelined, fueling a narrative of reverse discrimination.

Critics argue that such a targeted approach, while well-intentioned, may inadvertently perpetuate division. Supporters, however, insist that these measures are necessary to correct long-standing imbalances and provide opportunities that have historically been denied to these groups. As the community stands divided, the dialogue around systemic inequalities and the best methods to address them continues to evolve, showing that solutions to deep-rooted issues are often met with complex challenges and differing viewpoints.

The Role of Government in Equity

Erie County’s Resolution 43, which declared racism a public health crisis, reflects a growing trend among local governments to recognize and address the impacts of racial disparities through legislative and fiscal means. In accordance with The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, H.R.1319, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Commission of Erie County has been tasked with structuring investments that specifically support racially diverse populations. This includes lobbying for inclusive policies and empowering minority communities throughout the region.

The involvement of federal and state funds, contributed by taxpayers of all racial backgrounds, in initiatives that exclusively benefit minority groups, has led to heated discussions regarding the fairness and constitutionality of such policies. The perception that white taxpayers are funding programs from which they are excluded has sparked legal debates and threats of litigation, underscoring the tension between achieving racial equity and ensuring equal treatment under the law.

This scenario has left many wondering about the balance between corrective justice and universal fairness. With the government playing a pivotal role in shaping policies that affect all citizens, the responsibility to navigate these complex waters is significant. The challenge lies in crafting policies that address past inequities while avoiding new forms of discrimination, a task that continues to test the wisdom and foresight of policymakers.

Our Take

This initiative by Erie County, though aimed at addressing economic disparities, raises important questions about the approach to achieving racial equity. By limiting access to grants based solely on race, the county risks alienating a portion of its community, potentially breeding resentment and further division. This method, while intending to rectify past injustices, could be seen as creating new injustices, particularly against those who are excluded from such programs despite facing economic hardships themselves.

It is essential for policies to be inclusive and to consider the impacts on all community members. While the intention behind the grants is commendable, the execution may not be the most effective or fair way to promote economic equality. Such divisive measures could be detrimental to the social fabric of Erie County, fostering divisions rather than healing them. In the pursuit of equity, it is crucial to find solutions that unite rather than divide, ensuring that all individuals, regardless of race, have the opportunity to thrive.

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