A Colorado Springs barbershop owner is suing Gov. Jared Polis and another state official claiming $4 million in recently approved coronavirus relief aid for minority-owned businesses is unconstitutional.
Etienne Hardre, a white man who owns Locals Barbershop, filed the suit Tuesday arguing the aid violates the U.S. Constitution because it requires business owners to be of a certain race to qualify and does not remedy specific racial discrimination.
The $4 million in aid was set aside in the recently passed Senate Bill 1, a coronavirus relief package, and the funding will provide direct assistance to minority business owners and allow the Colorado Minority Business Office to increase services. The bill allocated $57 million total in relief, including $37 million for direct payments to small businesses, $7.5 million for workers and organizations in the arts and entertainment sector and $8.7 million to help lower the cost of licenses required to serve food and liquor. The funding for minority-owned businesses was less than 10% of the relief provided by the bill.
Hardre claims in his suit against Gov. Jared Polis and the Colorado Minority Business Office Director Rosy Aburto McDonough that he would apply for the relief currently reserved for minority-owned businesses if he were eligible. He would also apply for the technical and consulting services the Minority Business Office expects to offer if he qualified.
Hardre’s shop on Nevada Avenue has seen its annual revenue decline 33% compared to last year as a result of the pandemic and government-imposed restrictions, the suit states.
“While Mr. Hardre does not question the character or motivation of those who disagree with his position in this case, his lawsuit is well-grounded in precedent. The United States Supreme Court has consistently held that race-based classifications are only permissible when they are a ‘last resort,’ said Hardre’s lawyer, Michael Kuhn said, in a written statement. Hardre referred questionsabout the case to his lawyer.
The Colorado Attorney General’s Office and the Colorado Minority Business Office declined to comment. The Minority Business Office also did not answer questions about the need for the relief among the businesses the office serves or whether minority-owned businesses in the state have been hurt more by the pandemic.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce found in a poll released in August that minority businesses across the nation have been hit hardest by the pandemic, with 66% of minority-owned small businesses reporting they are concerned about permanently closing versus 57% of non-minority small businesses. The poll also found that 13% of minority business had tried and failed to secure a loan to help them survive compared to 8% of non-minority businesses. The poll was based on a sample of 500 businesses across the U.S.
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