Queens lawmakers call for city’s small business relief efforts to refocus on boroughs outside Manhattan

Photo: Angélica Acevedo/QNS

State Senator Jessica Ramos and Councilman Costa Constantinides are calling for the city’s small business COVID-19 relief programs to refocus their efforts on helping small businesses outside of Manhattan, which has received the majority of the financial assistance to date.

“Our small businesses all over New York City are suffering through the COVID-19 crisis, yet only ones in Manhattan benefited most from SBS relief,” said Ramos, who represents Senate District 13, home to some of the hardest-hit neighborhoods in Queens, including Jackson Heights and East Elmhurst. “The city must create a robust plan to reach out to our small businesses, many of which here in western Queens are owned by immigrant families, to create constructive ways to give them help.”

The lawmakers’ call comes after new statistics showed Manhattan small businesses accounted for the majority of the 2,600 businesses that have received payouts from two of the Small Businesses Services (SBS) relief programs.

As reported by the Gothamist, of the $20 million for NYC Business Continuity Loan Fund, 66 percent went to businesses based in Manhattan. Meanwhile, Brooklyn received 18 percent, Queens received 9 percent, Staten Island received 5 percent and the Bronx received less than 1 percent.

For the city’s $40 million grant program, NYC Employee Retention Grant, the trend continued with 53 percent going to Manhattan businesses, 25 percent for Brooklyn, 16 percent for Queens and three percent for both the Bronx and Staten Island.

“Western Queens’ small businesses represent the American dream, with owners and workers who come from every corner of the globe,” said Constantinides, who represents Council District 22, which includes Astoria and parts of East Elmhurst and Jackson Heights. “Yet so many barriers keep them from accessing vital city services or support — especially now. Without a full-scale plan to reach out to our small businesses, access their needs, and adapt, this will be a tale of two recoveries.”

On May 11, Ramos and Constantinides sent a joint letter asking the city formally take the issue to Mayor Bill de Blasio, new Commissioner of SBS Jonnel Doris and Gregg Bishop, newly appointed Senior Advisor for Small Business COVID-19 Recovery and former Commissioner of Small Business Services (SBS).

They wrote SBS and the city should prioritize immigrant- or minority-owned small businesses — such as the bodegas, dry cleaners, bakeries and shoe repair shops — in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island, as the city begins to plan how to restart the economy once COVID-19 is curbed.

They also pointed out that the city doesn’t have a “data-driven approach to identifying small businesses and a system to establish communicative relationships with them,” in their letter.

“The fact that a vast majority of the city’s financial relief went to Manhattan businesses demonstrates that smaller, neighborhood-based, immigrant or minority owned businesses in the ‘outer-boroughs,’ a term we loathe to use, likely did not know that these programs existed or didn’t understand how to apply,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “This is a problem we see time and again. It’s usually the folks who are not foreign born, have better education access, and are wealthier from the start who best understand how to access government resources.”

In response to the lawmakers’ call, an SBS spokesperson told QNS they created the two relief programs with the understanding that the needs of entrepreneurs outweighed available resources, as a rapid response to the ongoing crisis small business owners face.

The SBS spokesperson said they continue supporting businesses by helping them apply to their relief programs and the federal government’s PPP as well as through their series of technical assistance webinars that provide an overview of more available assistance for small businesses impacted by COVID-19 from federal, private, philanthropic, nonprofit levels, among others.

“To date, SBS has connected small businesses to over $60 million in local and federal grant and loan funding since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. Small businesses need us now more than ever and we must all work to support them in a consistent and direct way,” the spokesperson said. “New York City business owners can visit us at nyc.gov/covid19biz or call 311 to request technical assistance regarding preparing your financials for future financial resources and to learn about other resources for small business owners.”

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