Grant program offers assistance for small business owners

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LYNWOOD — With food sales plummeting more than 50% since the coronavirus pandemic hit Lynwood, micro entrepreneurs Ana Morales and her husband Miguel negotiated a two-month rent forgiveness deal with her landlord.   

However, the $2,000 monthly rent payment resumed in July and Morales said her ailing Tacos Bomba restaurant meets the requirements to qualify for a $5,000 grant offered by the Los Angeles Regional Covid-19 Recovery Fund.

Morales’ restaurant is in peril and she plans to apply for the recovery funds.

“We barely started to have indoor dining customers again, when the [state] ordered us to go back to take-out sales only,” said Morales, who started the Mexican food stand in December 2018. “This is the first month we need to pay rent since the pandemic broke, and we will have to cover it from our pockets.”

Lending a helping hand to business hit hard by the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus, Los Angeles County and the Los Angeles Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC LA) deployed a unique $3 million grant program, offering $5,000 for micro-enterprises and $15,000 for small business and charities to use in any operational expense, be they purchasing supplies or covering deferred rent and utilities.

Managed by the nonprofit LISC LA, an organization with 31 offices throughout the country, the recovery fund should reinvigorate businesses struggling to stay afloat to make up for lost income due to mandated lockdowns to stymie the spread of the virus, or to prep diminished flow of cash due to less sales and customers, said its administrators.

The online program began accepting applications July 6, and is composed of six funding rounds, each requiring a new submission if businesses were not chosen in previous tries.

LISC LA Executive Director Tunua Thrash-Ntuk said at a webinar that she expects thousands of applications for the regional grants, but they must adhere to qualification criteria of incomes of $100,000 or less for micro enterprises, and more than $100,000 but less that $1 million for charities and small businesses.

“Small businesses and organizations in low-income and underserved communities cannot wait any longer for relief and recovery efforts during these difficult times,” Thrash-Ntuk said.

The director said applicants should answer online questionnaires with 20 to 30 questions and prepare documents such as 2018 or 2019 tax reports, business registration records, 1099s forms for independent contractors or sole proprietors, and proof that the business started on or before September 2019.

She said the documents would be requested only if the businesses are finalists for money disbursements. Winners would be notified of the awards at the end of each round.

The financial endeavor will be conducted in three months, with grant rounds composed of five business days for filing virtual forms, with the last one slated between Sept. 14 and Sept. 18. 

To qualify, independent contractors, street vendors, sole owners and micro entrepreneurs should be able to provide information filed in W9 forms, including Social Security numbers.

All participants should have bank accounts.

Small business and nonprofit awardees must be incorporated with the California Secretary of State’s Office, and micro enterprises should be registered with municipal or county agencies.

Chosen charities would be asked for their 501(C)(3) registration documents and 990 forms of either 2018 or 2019 filed with the IRS.

“Right now, we are anticipating somewhere around 40 or so winners per round,  but there may be a little more,” with a maximum of 350 to 400 recipients,” Thrash-Ntuk said.

All grant winners would be picked using an “online weighted lottery,” but entities with physical addresses in census tracks with low to moderated incomes as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will be given more weight, including businesses that report revenues of $500,000 or less a year and those owned by veterans.

Veteran business-owners and executive directors are required to provide DD214 forms, the documents that certify members of the armed forces were released or discharged from active duty by the U.S. Defense Department.

Most entities within the urban core of Los Angeles County fall under the HUD criteria. Thrash-Ntuk indicated the funds were donated by Citibank, Wells Fargo and Union Bank to relief businesses providing essential services and to help immigrant-owned enterprises and the “most vulnerable Angelenos impacted by COVID-19.”

All forms should be filed in English. The web portal set for the program at www.lacovidfund.org has links to 14 other languages for business owners who need assistance in another tongue, or for translation while filing the application. 

LISC Community Development Director Alexandra Dawson said the applications are PDFs found on the program’s portal, and visitors should scroll down to the bottom and click on a yellow button to display them.

The grants for micro, small businesses and nonprofits “are set amounts,” and will not increase or decrease, Dawson said.

In addition, businesses awarded loans sponsored by the Small Business Administration, or still waiting for an answer are eligible for the grants.

Some cities located in Southeast Los Angeles pitched the COVID-19 relief program to local businesses days before its launching date.

On July 1, Lynwood twitted the availability of grants and asked micro and small business owners to peruse the website and study the process to apply, while Maywood and Paramount anchored to their websites addresses of regional relief programs for businesses injured by COVID-19.

Ana Morales, who hired one part-time kitchen worker, said that if she gets a grant, the money would soothe the drying cash flow and help her survive amid a diminished number of customers afraid to venture to her eatery located on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, until an effective vaccine is developed against the coronavirus.

Her husband, Miguel, also plans to apply for the paycheck protection program for small businesses before Aug. 8, the new deadline to submit a petition for a forgivable loan requiring 60% of the funds to cover employee salaries.

The couple plans to conduct a business inventory that includes the kitchen hardware, refrigerators, food supplies and other wares, perhaps with an intent to sell if food orders do not pick up soon.

“I hope that if the spike in virus infections get under control, we would recover from all the incurred losses,” Ana Morales said. “Now, we have sales of $30 or $50 a day at most, whereas before the outbreak we logged $200 and $300 a day,” the restaurateur said. “I’m tired of this situation.”

By Alfredo Santana

Contributing Writer

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