We’ve always strongly advocated for small businesses. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we took that advocacy to the next level – helping lead the charge to create the COVID-19 Relief Pennsylvania Statewide Small Business Assistance Grant Program. Through this program, the Neighborhood Community Development Fund – formerly known as the “Northside Community Development Fund” – was able to get $10 million in grants to 607 small businesses in need throughout Allegheny County. Statewide, the program, which we helped build and manage, provided 14,000 small businesses with grants totaling $237 million.

Diversity, equity and inclusion are important to us. In Allegheny County alone, we received 1,478 applications – 659 from businesses owned by those who are historically disadvantaged. Out of these applications, we were able to fund 607 total businesses, 351 of which are minority-owned businesses in Allegheny County. But as you can see, there are still several unfunded applications and many more companies in need of additional resources.

Small Businesses Are Struggling
Although fiscal relief is available to small businesses in the form of temporary loans, we have to put ourselves in the shoes of those running small restaurants and similar businesses. Think of the business owners who have to throw away half their inventory when restaurant capacity requirements change on short notice. Consider those who invest a quarter of their life’s savings to give their new neighborhood bar some atmosphere – only to be hit with strict gathering restrictions at a moment’s notice.

Following the rules and adhering to the law in the interest of public health and safety is something we should all be doing. But when small business owners follow these regulations and see their sales plummet as a result, they shouldn’t have to suffer the consequences. We have to make sure that funds from every level of government are being utilized in the best way. We have to check every county to make sure small businesses are getting the help they need. And we need to make sure our solutions for those small businesses truly help them. Giving business owners loans that will be hard to pay back because of the decreased sales resulting from pandemic restrictions isn’t setting them up for success.

Why Grants Help More Than Loans
While the intention behind these loans is admirable, we have to look at the bigger picture. A global pandemic isn’t anything that any of us could have anticipated or prepared for – and it’s a situation that affects nearly every aspect of a small business owner’s life. Instead of placing a bigger burden on these hardworking individuals by saddling them with more debt from loans, the government should be giving them grants to help their businesses heal.

Here at The Neighborhood Fund, we help local businesses access the resources they need to keep operations afloat. But for small businesses to do more than keep their heads above water, the different parts of our government need to work together cohesively – in order to grant small businesses the relief they deserve.
By Mark Masterson, Executive Director