Emergency fund helps struggling LA street vendors during coronavirus crisis

From street vendors to mom-and-pop shops, small businesses in Southern California are in need of help.
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Southern California small business are struggling during the coronavirus pandemic, and it is impacting street vendors and mom-and-pop shops.

The crisis is especially difficult for very small businesses with no employees and business owners who may be undocumented.

Rudy Espinoza runs Inclusive Action for the City. The nonprofit was providing microloans to those operating in what some call the informal economy, and now their focus is on managing a street vendor emergency fund.

"This emergency fund is getting direct cash assistance to street vendors," Espinoza said.

With donations from the United Way, the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation and a GoFundMe page, the emergency fund has helped 300 street vendors, domestic workers and other vulnerable populations with a $400 cash card.

Santa Huerta, 64, is among them. She made a living selling clothing and toys in the Fashion District out of her van. She and her husband earned enough to support themselves and their two kids, who are both in college.

Then came the pandemic and shutdown.

Huerta has lived and worked in L.A. for three decades. She said she's paid for taxes every year without fail, but she doesn't qualify for federal assistance.

In the meantime, the emergency fund is helping but many more like Santa are in need. If you'd like to help, you can go to inclusiveaction.org to donate.

Other small businesses are also feeling the strain. At Blue Plate in Santa Monica, it may seem it is busy but like so many others, they're struggling to stay open. They're bringing in one-tenth of what they used to.
Owner Jenny Rush said they had to change everything and had three days to do it.

Menu prices have been slashed, hours shortened and it's now curbside pickup only, but Rush said the hardest part was having to furlough 90% of the staff. Not knowing when or if they'll be able to fully reopen has also been difficult.

Rush is waiting to hear if she'll be approved for the Paycheck Protection Program.

"I've been e-mailing my banker every day going 'Where do we stand?'" she said.

Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce President Maria Salinas urges small business owners like Rush to lean on their bankers, accountants and lawyers for guidance.

But business owners without those resources can get help from the chamber's Small Business Development Center.

"There can be information on how to fill out forms, how to package your small business, how to have the financial statements ready," Salinas said.

The Department of Consumer and Business Affairs is another resource. Its COVID-19 website LACountyHelpCenter.org provides grant and loan assistance.

If you missed out on the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program because you didn't have a relationship with a large bank, there is another chance: $60 billion has been set aside for smaller community banks and credit unions.
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