Kent County’s top official says it is “critically important” that a $25 million business relief program launched this week is accessible to minority-owned businesses, following recent criticism that the program isn’t properly compensating minority business and social equity groups for their assistance.
Kent County Administrator Wayman Britt issued a public statement Thursday night addressing the controversy, which stems from the county’s recent decision to pay the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce $750,000 to administer the Small Business Recovery Program.
Critics, including officials with Start Garden, have said the decision follows a “pattern and history” in Grand Rapids of large organizations receiving funding while relying on smaller organizations and minorities for volunteer work, as MiBiz reported this week.
“With nearly 26 percent of our population identifying as racially or ethnically diverse, the Board of Commissioners and administration recognize that it is critically important to ensure equitable access to this funding among Black, Latinx and other minority-owned businesses,” Britt said in a statement.
“For that reason, the program is focused on those businesses that have been previously unable to access coronavirus relief funds and are otherwise the most disadvantaged. That includes those with language barriers and from underserved communities.”
The $25 million program is part of nearly $115 million Kent County received in federal CARES Act pandemic relief funds.
Britt added that county officials have “valued the input and testimony” given by groups including the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Grand Rapids Black Chamber of Commerce, LatinxGR and the Grand Rapids African American Task Force.
Earlier this week, leaders of the Hispanic Chamber and Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses penned a joint letter criticizing the county program and calling for funds to be sent directly to their groups to give out to minority-owned businesses, as MiBiz previously reported. The letter was supported by the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, the Latino Community Coalition, the Latina Network, the NAACP and the West Michigan Asian American Association.
The county is issuing technical grants to the Hispanic Chamber and GRABB “to help these organizations build capacity to best serve the minority business community during this crisis,” Britt said.
The county has maintained that the Grand Rapids Chamber has prior experience in handling a small business relief program. Britt called it the Grand Rapids Chamber’s “relevant experience, immediate capabilities and capacity,” and said the group will make grant recommendations to the county.
The county will then distribute grants to small businesses.
“Importantly, the Grand Rapids Chamber is positioned and prepared to ensure minority-owned businesses will receive equitable funding through this program — and has a proven track record in this area,” Britt added. “As part of this process, they have invited many community groups, including those that specifically represent minority populations, to share information about the Small Business Recovery Program with their members. This collaboration will be key to the success of the program.”