Several months ago, Mayor London Breed announced the allocation of $28.5 million for COVID-19 relief in the Latinx community, who have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic. One of those purposes for the money was economic relief for the Latinx small business community; another was economic support for the healthcare efforts conducted on a local level. But where one has received the funds intended for such a purpose, the other continues to be overlooked.
Mayor Breed’s office announced on Monday, Dec. 7, new funding particularly for Latinx and minority-owned small businesses, as well as deferment of Unified License Fees. The outcome of cooperation specifically between the Mission Economic Development Agency, Mission Neighborhood Centers, and the Office of Economic Workforce Development, the money will be directed through two programs: the SF Latino Small Business Fund, which is an expansion of the SF HELP program; and the Shared Spaces Equity Grants Program.
Mayor Breed also extended the deadline for businesses to pay their 2020 Unified License Fee from March 1, 2021 to Oct. 31, 2021.
The San Francisco Latino Small Business Fund has a budget of $3.2 million, an amount taken from the $28.5 million. According to MEDA representative Pablo Solares-Rowbury, small business owners can apply for a zero-interest loan from $10,000 to $50,000. Once approved by MEDA, each application will be entered into a lottery, from which approximately 80 businesses will be chosen.
When asked if $3.2 million was enough, Solares replied “it is definitely not enough…we received around 2,000 long inquiry forms from businesses across the city…we can only support around 80 businesses. The need for capital is so much larger than whatever we have available.”
There is, however, a silver lining to this program, which potentially makes it one of the most helpful COVID relief programs so far. “People who didn’t have access to federal funding, whether it was through the PPP program or employment insurance or so on, can apply for the program and actually get help,” said Solares-Rowbury. The loans can be used for anything from utility bills to replacing lost revenue and salary.
The Shared Spaces Equity Grants Program, funded by the City, has a budget of $1 million and awards grants of $5,000 to applicants who either hold or have applied for Shared Space permits—Shared Spaces include outdoor restaurant and other activities areas that currently function in place of indoor events. These grants are intended to reimburse business owners for the cost of building and operating Shared Spaces, even while the city is in a state of shut down.
Prior to the creation of the Latino Small Business Fund, some Mission-based organizations had already received money from the $28.5 million fund. According to Santiago “Sam” Ruiz, organizations such as the MNC, Instituto Familiar de la Raza, and La Raza Community Resources Center, used that money to address the needs of the community. Providing and delivering food to those who are homebound, diapers and baby formula for those with small children, and rental assistance to those who lost their jobs because of the pandemic are among the services provided by these groups.
“They are doing a phenomenal, phenomenal service,” said Ruiz. Financially, their needs are “greater than the funding that they’re receiving, but they’re doing the right thing and they’re doing it right.”
“We’re not here to take the place of the government,” continued Ruiz, but in a community like the Mission, where “people…became strategic thinkers and partners…and there are folks from the non-profit sector who are…becoming problem solvers,” it becomes especially frustrating to have to wait for the government to catch up.
For other organizations, the City has been conspicuously and frustratingly absent. The Latino Task Force, a leader in obtaining the $28.5 million, has yet to receive or even hear anything about the money they secured months ago. “We haven’t gotten a dollar,” said Jon Jacobo, health committee chair of the LTF, in spite of the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases.
Jacobo also questioned why resources haven’t been shifted to areas of greater need. He cited testing results from the Embarcadero site, where there is a two percent infection rate, versus the 10 percent infection rate in the Mission. The answer given by DPH officials, that they don’t want to take tests away from other neighborhoods, was not acceptable to Jacobo, who wants to “follow the data and test where it leads.”
“If I’m the director of the Department of Public Health…why are we 10 months into the pandemic and the leading organization that can produce people to come out and get tested…how have we still not funded them?” asked an incredulous Jacobo.
To an outside observer, it looks as if the City departments aren’t on the same page. Where one seems to be distributing funding to the proper recipients (the OEWD helped to channel the $3.2 million for the Latino Small Business Fund), another seems to have dropped the ball (the DPH is responsible for funneling money from the $28.5 million to the LTF). To echo Jacobo, after 10 months, why hasn’t the government managed to get organized yet?
A common thread running through these sentiments is that the money the City has so far provided is not enough. The pandemic continues to rip through the city like a mad bull, and only large-scale effort—including financial resources—can fix the damage. While the Latinx community has thus far supplied its own organization and energy in fighting COVID-19, the City is still responsible for holding up its end of the bargain to protect the people of San Francisco.