The unemployment rate in L.A. County is a staggering 20.9 percent, according to the California Employment Development Department – far higher than the state average of 16.3 percent, or even the national average of 11.1 percent.
But today, there is good news. On Monday, the L.A. Regional COVID-19 Recovery Fund started accepting applications for $5,000 and $15,000 grants to small businesses, nonprofits, and micro-entrepreneurs that operate in Los Angeles County and meet the eligibility criteria. Funded by the County and City of Los Angeles, in partnership with various philanthropic groups, the fund will award $3 million over the next four months.
The $5,000 micro entrepreneur grants are available to gig economy workers (such as Uber drivers), street vendors, sole proprietors, independent contractors, and 1099 workers with revenues of $100,000 or less, according to their most recent tax return.
The $15,000 small business grants are available to active, for-profit business entities that have a yearly gross revenue of more than $100,000 but less than $1 million, according to their most recent tax return. Nonprofit groups are also eligible for a $15,000 grant if they are a registered 501(C)(3) that provides supportive services to low- to moderate-income individuals or families in L.A. County and also have an annual gross revenue of less than $1 million.
All applicants must verify revenue with a 2018 or 2019 tax return and apply online.
"There’s a lot of need out there,” said Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, executive director of Local Initiatives Support Corporation, the organization that is implementing the program. During the first 8-1/2 hours of the site going live Monday, LISC had received 3,000 applications.
Thrash-Ntuk expects to receive 12,000 by Friday, after which her group will begin vetting the first round of finalists. In total, about 400 entities will receive the grants, she said.
The grants will be awarded in six rounds starting July 6 and running every other week through September 18. Each round is available for one week, beginning Monday and closing Friday at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. The applications are available in 15 languages, from Arabic to Hindi to Vietnamese. Finalists will be notified by email and must respond immediately, according to COVID Fund administrator, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation. Undocumented residents are eligible and will need to complete a W-9 form with an ITIN or business TAX ID number if selected as a finalist.
Those who are selected to receive the grants will need to certify they have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and are also promoting the best interests of the community. While entities can submit a new application for each round, they can only receive one grant.
Designed to plug the gaps of the federal Economic Injury Disaster Loan program and Paycheck Protection Program that left out many of L.A.’s most vulnerable entrepreneurs and small business operators, the L.A. COVID grants will be awarded through a lottery system that is weighted to favor entities that are located in or primarily serve low-to-moderate income census tracts, Veteran-owned small businesses, and small businesses or nonprofits with less than $500,000 in yearly revenues.
“Maybe they weren’t large enough or didn’t make enough money. They were the kind of entities that weren’t super sophisticated and didn’t have a lot of the paperwork to quality for the EIDL or PPP, especially for some of our very small businesses,” said Thrash-Ntuk, citing hair stylists and handymen as examples.
The grants are part of a three-tiered program that also includes loans as well as coaching and technical assistance. Starting this fall, the L.A. COVID Fund will begin offering loans and micro-loans to the same entities that are also eligible for the grants. And it is currently working with community organizations to provide free coaching and one-on-one technical assistance to grant and loan applicants.