Democratic State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi is embarking on a multi-day tour through the Bronx’s 34th District — which encompasses the north Bronx’s Riverdale, Pelham and Throggs Neck sections — enlisting small businesses in her district to apply for their share of the state’s $800 million COVID-19 Small Business Recovery Grant Program.
Through the grant program, small businesses throughout New York State are eligible for reimbursement with grants up to $50,000 for any COVID-related expenses suffered between March 1, 2020 and April 1, 2021.
Biaggi is also imploring her fellow elected officials to spread the word in their districts, business-by-business, about the relief program.
“The biggest barrier is that these [small businesses] don’t know that this grant program exists,” Biaggi said to the Bronx Times during her stop on Pelham’s Lydig Avenue. “Honestly, people are just trying to survive, and when you look at the Bronx, this has been the borough hit hardest by COVID death, infections and unemployment rate.”
More than 330,000 small and micro businesses are potentially eligible for this program, including 57% of the state’s certified Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprises.
According to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s website, grants will be for a minimum award of $5,000 and a maximum of $50,000.
The Bronx’s business and labor markets were ransacked by COVID-19, reaching unemployment levels as high as 25% in June 2020; the highest of any county in the state at that time.
According to a June 2021 report from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, a “significant factor” in the borough’s economic losses were the industries where Bronx residents were employed.
The report states that the borough’s high unemployment rate led to “inadequate resources” for the small businesses that make up the majority of the Bronx’s commercial activity.
Unemployment in the Bronx has since leveled down to 13.5%, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report. However, the Bronx workforce is still recouping from the effects of a marathon pandemic.
Prior to the onset of COVID, more than 70% of the Bronx workforce was employed in “Essential or face-to-face industries, the largest of which include 25.9% in healthcare and social assistance; 10.2% in retail trade; 9.6% in accommodation and food services; and 7.7% in transportation and warehousing,” DiNapoli’s report reads.
Although the Bronx did not have the highest rate of COVID-19 cases among the city’s five boroughs, the Bronx did have more cases and more deaths per capita, according to Business Insider. Additionally, outcomes in the Bronx were more severe, with the highest hospitalization and death rates.
New York City businesses also saw sparse relief from the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan program that ended on May 31.
In January, only 12% of NYC’s 1.1 million eligible small businesses received PPP loan assistance, with the Bronx receiving the least amount of federal aid; just 40% of employee-based businesses received PPP loans.
Despite COVID’s inequitable impact on the Bronx, Biaggi touted the “resilience and optimism” of the 34th District’s small business owners.
“There’s a resiliency and optimism in each business we’ve walked into,” she said. “There’s also a doggedness to not give up.”
Biaggi said for New York City to truly recover from the pandemic, all boroughs must benefit equitably and relief must be “transformative” for the city’s small businesses and communities.
“The irony is that we’re trying to help businesses get back on their feet, but when you’re trying to survive it’s hard to be present,” she said. “That’s why we’re doing these face-to-face meetings so that these encounters are more impactful.”
Biaggi’s office is also championing the state’s $2.1 billion, first-in-the-nation Excluded Worker Fund program. The program offers a one-time payment to excluded workers — New York State residents deemed ineligible for state unemployment benefits or federal COVID-related relief funds — who earned less than $26,208 between April 19, 2020 and April 19, 2021
Applications for the program won’t open until August and eligible workers will receive one of two tiers of benefits: a payment of $15,600 pre-taxes, which is equivalent to a weekly $300 check per 52 weeks, or a second tier which is a payment of $3,200, equal to three federal stimulus checks.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter @bronxtimes and Facebook @bxtimes.