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Business and Economy

Brothel Owner Awarded Federal COVID-19 Relief, But Funds On Hold

A woman sitting at a table
Brian Bahouth
The Sierra Nevada Ally
Bella Cummins is the sole proprietor of Bella's Hacienda Ranch brothel in Wells, Nevada and is also the executive director of the Onesta Foundation.

A brothel owner in Wells, Nevada has been awarded a federal emergency loan to keep her brothel alive during the mandated shutdown of nonessential businesses to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. But contributor Brian Bahouth of The Sierra Nevada Ally says that funding is not currently available.

Of any legal business service in Nevada, sex work may pose the most flagrant possible violation of safe social distancing guidelines of any occupation. Since Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak closed nonessential businesses, a handful of sex workers are sheltering in place at Bella’s Hacienda Ranch in Wells. The business is shuttered, and owner and namesake Bella Cummins is allowing the women to stay for free. Earlier this week, Cummins went to her bank, Nevada State Bank, to apply for an emergency loan from the Small Business Administration to help her business weather the COVID-19 state of emergency.

“It was interesting … that the bank … wanted to tell me that I wasn’t going to qualify and they weren’t going to send it in. I said, ‘the CARES relief Act has no restrictions,’ and I said, ‘of course, the Small Business Administration would have a restriction pertaining to the brothel business, however, this isn’t the case,” said Cummins.

The SBA guidelines for three types of emergency loans cast a broad, inclusive net. The Sierra Nevada Ally could not find a CARES Act or SBA restriction that would prevent a brothel for applying for relief.

State Bank of Nevada Spokesperson Sandi Milton said in an email that the bank could not find a clause that would prohibit a brothel from applying either. When asked if the bank told Cummins not to apply, there was no response.

Cummins said her business has always faced a cultural headwind, but she’s glad the bank ultimately processed her application.

“It isn’t about them coming up with a decision on how they think or feel, it’s about following a federal policy,” Cummins explained.

Over the last 30 years, Cummins says her business has never been granted a loan.

Since applying for federal help earlier this week, the SBA has notified Cummins that her application to the Paycheck Protection Program for some $70,000 has been approved.

Roughly 25 percent of the award is a grant, the remainder a no-interest loan.

But in a follow-up letter, the very same day, Nevada State Bank said the SBA has notified them that the initial allocation of funds has been reached and they have suspended the approval of new applications.

The bank encouraged Cummins to petition Nevada’s Congressional delegation to expedite the allocation of additional funds for small businesses, including Bella’s Hacienda Ranch.

KUNR Contributor Brian Bahouth is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Sierra Nevada Ally. To read more on this topic, visit The Sierra Nevada Ally.

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