Published 7:00 AM EDT Apr 30, 2020
Rafael Larios didn’t expect Verizon to be a vital ingredient to the survival of his family’s Los Angeles area restaurants.
But since the two restaurants have been relying on deliveries due to the coronavirus pandemic, the family is striving to keep the business cooking.
The most important thing needed? Cash. “We need to pay our bread guy, we need to pay our pastry guys, we need to catch up on payroll … and we get paid last,” says Larios, who has taken over the family business of two Honduras’ Kitchen restaurants along with his brother Jonathan.
As assistance has been elusive for many small businesses across the country, some of them – like the Larios family – are looking for answers and support among their business networks and the private sector.
“One of the members of the small business association class my brother and I had taken sent me an email with information” on different assistance programs, added Larios.
For the Larios, that assistance came in the form of a grant program from Verizon in partnership with the nonprofit nationwide community development group Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), which established the LISC’s Verizon Small Business Recovery Fund.
Larios’ restaurants in Huntington Park and Long Beach, California, are among the 200 small businesses across the U.S. receiving up to $10,000 in the form of small business grants from the Verizon fund’s first round of applicants.
Verizon is bolstering the fund, the telecom giant announced Thursday, adding an additional $2.5 million donation, bringing the total up to “more than a $7.5 million,” according to Rose Stuckey Kirk, Verizon’s chief corporate social responsibility officer.
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The fund is offering support to small businesses facing immediate financial threat due to the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing especially on historically underserved communities.
“We are looking for small businesses, urban and rural, that size between five to 15 employees. Businesses that are the backbone to their communities,” said LISC president and CEO Maurice Jones.
That’s the case for DeShanta Black, a beauty boutique owner in Pennington, Alabama, who saw her business (and income) compromised during the pandemic.
“It’s really hard trying to get a loan, especially being a woman minority,” Black said. “Once COVID-19 came, I started making masks for the community to have some sort of income.”
The harsh conditions small business owners face daily extends to their employees, vendors, and their communities, as assistance gets held up.
Larios says that Honduras’ Kitchen applied for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “two days” after the government made it available to the public and they still “haven’t heard anything.”
The Small Business Administration program offers firms employing 500 or fewer workers low-interest loans to cover their costs while they’re shuttered. But while the SBA has approved billions in loans since April 3, businesses point to a myriad of challenges in the PPP’s rollout: technical glitches, an avalanche of requests, a lack of response, and an exhaustion of money.
Jones confirmed that businesses that have received government loans aren’t excluded from being selected to receive grants from LISC’s Verizon Small Business Recovery Fund. Black, for example, has not applied for the PPP, but did acknowledge it was a question in the application process.
Verizon has also been rallying support for small businesses affected by COVID-19 through its weekly streaming entertainment series “Pay It Forward Live.” During the live events, viewers are encouraged to do what they can to support local businesses in their own communities and help spread the word of the program in social media using #PayItForwardLIVE.
Black confirmed that social channels were the key for her. “I was scrolling on Facebook and someone had posted it. And I just applied for (the grant) to see if it was legit,” she said.
For each use of the hashtag, Verizon will donate $10, up to $2.5 million, to support small businesses.
When it comes to those businesses in rural areas, Black acknowledged that “the main thing is that we can’t wait for opportunities to fall in our lap and we have to get out there and research.”
Small businesses owners interested in applying for a grant can visit Verizon Small Business Recovery Fund.
Contributing: Paul Davidson and Ledyard King