County explains disbursement of business relief funds

By Alfredo Santana

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — The county has distributed nearly $100 million in grants to small, micro and nonprofit businesses that have been impacted negatively by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, executive director of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation in Los Angeles (LISC LA), said that 7,324 businesses benefitted from more than $99 million distributed in grants, with $75 million earmarked for enterprises located in low- and moderate-income are throughout the county.

During a virtual conference with regional economic experts and elected officials, Thrash-Ntuk said LISC LA received 142,806 applications from retailers, manufacturers, restaurants, schools, professional practices, clinics, hair salons and other businesses in search of financial relief resulting from stay-at-home orders and other factors related to the pandemic.

Officials said the pandemic has forced the permanent closure of between 15 and 20% of 28,000 restaurants registered in the county.

Of the applications, 77,189 originated from the city of Los Angeles, and 65,667 arrived from the other 87 municipalities within the county, plus non-incorporated areas in 403 zip codes.

The awards averaged $13,600 per business, with payments ranging from $5,000 to $30,000, obtained through a variety of programs with federal, state, regional and municipal funds, tailored to prop up business in low-income neighborhoods in or near zones with high levels of noise or pollution, Thrash-Ntuk said.

Overall, businesses requested $1.2 billion in pandemic relief.

“It was really critical that we took an equity lens to these grants-making work,” said Thrash-Ntuk, whose agency was in charge of distributing most of the funds. “We wanted to make sure that we reached folks who were in low- or moderate-income census tracts, our veterans, and to those who experienced high levels of pollution or other environmental hazards, in those census tracts.”

About 73% of applicants reported revenue drops of 50% or more in the early stages of the pandemic, she said. Grants were tailored to address businesses in zones of high unemployment.

The allocations include ongoing $30,000 grants to 150 restaurants that were equipped with canopies, sanitizing equipment and staff wearing face masks and gloves all the time, that closed on or after Aug. 24.

Rafael Carbajal, director of t hecounty Department of Consumers and Business Affairs, said that his agency wanted to ensure the equitable distribution of resources for operations “that desperately needed funding.”

“This is arguably the nation’s largest and most equitable regional response in support of struggling businesses” injured by the pandemic, Carbajal said.

About 80% of the recipients are minority-owned businesses, according to Thrash-Ntuk.

However, many applicants failed to qualify for grants because they did not read the instructions properly, said LISC LA program officer Emma Kloppenburg.

“We strongly advised applicants to read applications in their entirety, because some had to be replaced with others due to failure to follow documentation,” Kloppenburg said.

Businesses that received funding add functioning computer equipment that enabled them to upload documents to websites.

They also had mentors and reviewers in a process done virtually, Kloppenburg added.

County Development Authority director Emilio Salas added that many businesses were disqualified for not being able to produce required documents or for lacking necessary permits.

Some businesses submitted applications listing sole proprietors, but tax forms and other documents indicated the businesses were partnerships.

Conflicting information in ownership documents disqualified applicants from grants, or delayed them up to 1 ½ months from getting the allocations, Salas said.

For future COVID-19 economic relief rounds, Salas advised applicants to “check everything, and attend a webinar to make sure they know they meet the criteria before they apply.”

Los Angeles Economic and Workforce Development Department manager Carolyn Hull, said that child care centers received $11.8 million in grants to help them cope with a stark reduction in services as parents worked from home and provided care for their children.

The street vending program provided $2 million to those who qualified, she said.

“The assistance that we have provided to our small businesses throughout the pandemic, in my opinion, is unprecedented,” county Supervisor Hilda Solis said.

She said the disbursement of $46 million so far has supported more than 1,400 minority-owned businesses, and prevented up to 5,000 jobs from being wiped out.

“Funding for small businesses is critical, because they are the lifeblood of our economy,” Solis said. “Businesses with less than 20 employees make up to 93% of all the businesses in L.A. County. We know that supporting the small businesses, nonprofits and micro entrepreneurs would be the key to our recovery in this region.”

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