Santa Clara County Microbusiness Grants Will Leave Some Suspended
January 21, 2022
COVID relief for very small businesses in Santa Clara County is on the horizon, but a host of rules may prevent it from reaching some struggling entrepreneurs.
The county is waiting to receive $2.4 million from a California program that helps microbusinesses across the state. Once in hand, the county plans to distribute grants of $2,500 to approximately 875 small businesses. Businesses eligible for the program must have fewer than five employees and earn less than $50,000 per year.
“We expect to have approvals and processes in place in the coming weeks before announcing details,” county spokesman Matthew Ruding told San Jose Spotlight.
The nonprofit Enterprise Foundation distributes the grants with the help of a dozen community partner organizations. Executive Director Dennis King said the funds are the first for the county’s smallest and most vulnerable businesses, such as independent contractors who work in hair salons or nail salons, street vendors and home cooks.
“This group has been the hardest hit by the pandemic,” King told San Jose Spotlight. “It’s great to be able to immediately provide them with something meaningful and impactful.”
King and County are still working on the application process and want to streamline the process to make it easier for businesses. Some strict rules are already in place: Grants are limited to businesses operating in 2019 and 2020, making less than $50,000 in revenue in 2019, and having fewer than five employees.
For many small businesses in Santa Clara County, $2,500 would be a godsend. Roberto Gonzalez, head of the Berryessa Flea Market Vendors Association, told San José Spotlight that some vendors struggle during the winter months when business is slow. The money that doesn’t go to rent could be used to take small steps to grow their businesses.
“The number one element that always comes up is capital,” Gonzalez said. “Money to help them grow their businesses – the main issue is always capital.”
The grants are intended for businesses affected by the pandemic. But the state’s criteria exclude businesses started in 2020 and 2021, which include a large number of residents who lost their jobs due to the pandemic and started their own businesses to survive.
Mariel De La Cruz, photographer and food stylist, lost her job as a pastry chef at the start of the pandemic. Last August, she started a freelance food photography business for corporations and media. A small grant could pay for lighting equipment, personal protective equipment and rapid tests for people working with her on photo shoots, but she probably won’t qualify since she launched her business after 2019 She said the lack of help was frustrating.
“It’s not easy at all,” De La Cruz said. “I feel like there was just a lot of help given to everyone, and now it’s done, it’s stopped very abruptly, and it’s been a tough transition for a lot of people. “
Many companies across the department gone under during the first year of the pandemic. In recent months, the region has experienced some recovery with drop in unemployment. In December, the Board of Supervisors approved a $20 million federal relief grant to help small businesses.
Some micro-enterprise owners are not sure that a grant would reduce their expenses much, even if they were eligible for it. Noelle Boesenberg, a San Jose resident who started a baking business after being laid off from her job at the start of the pandemic, said she pays for baking supplies, equipment, delivery supplies and the maintenance of a website. All of this is in addition to rent and utilities.
The omicron variant of COVID-19 also poses a constant threat to businesses. Boesenberg told San Jose Spotlight that she fell ill in January and had to cancel all of her orders pending a negative test result. She suggested that if the county wants to help microbusinesses, it could start by waiving permit fees and reinstating protections like the eviction moratorium, or expanding grants to more people.
“It’s really disgusting for people like me who lost their jobs and have to find a new way to make money,” Boesenberg said. “Policy makers don’t seem to think about companies like mine.”
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