Published in Economic Development

Black, Hispanic biz groups criticize Kent County’s process to allocate COVID relief funding

BY Wednesday, June 24, 2020 06:02pm

GRAND RAPIDS — Two organizations representing minority-owned businesses issued a public statement Wednesday condemning a Kent County program that’s distributing $25 million in federal CARES Act funding for small business relief.

Leaders of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses (GRABB) are calling on the Kent County Board of Commissioners to reverse an earlier decision outlining the allocation of $25 million in small business relief related to the pandemic. County officials on June 11 approved the program, which started accepting applications on Monday. 

Guillermo Cisneros, executive director of the Hispanic Chamber COURTESY PHOTO

The county paid the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce $750,000 to administer the Small Business Recovery Program, which it said would tap local business organizations and groups to vet applicants.

MiBiz previously reported that some local business leaders felt they should be getting paid for their efforts.

The joint statement from Guillermo Cisneros, executive director of the Hispanic Chamber, and Jamiel Robinson, founder and CEO of GRABB, criticized the county’s decision-making process. 

“There was no discussion of proposals or contracting with those who have had a long history and proven track record of serving diverse businesses. Instead with no engagement of diverse leaders of these organizations that have served Black and Brown businesses these funds were immediately funneled to the Grand Rapids Chamber,” the letter says. “For a City and County that speaks so eloquently of inclusion and equity yet again, there was no action put behind these words.”

It adds: “In the moment that Kent County had to finally show their commitment to Black and Brown businesses and communities, instead they turned away and continued to perpetuate the systematic and institutional racism that our communities suffer from in one of the most prosperous cities in America.”

Cisneros and Robinson called for the CARES Act funding to be allocated to their groups “to distribute directly to the businesses our organizations serve. … Let this be the moment that Kent County moves beyond rhetoric and instead put action behind their ‘commitment’ to equity.”

Separately, the Hispanic Chamber said today the funding should be allocated proportionally. Given the Latinx community makes up 10.7 percent of Kent County’s population, the Hispanic Chamber should receive 10.7 percent of the program’s funds, or $2.65 million, the group said.

Mandy Bolter, chairperson of the Kent County Board of Commissioners, told MiBiz recently “time was of the essence” to set up the program, and that the GR Chamber “had a track record” in managing a grant fund.

Kent County Administrator Wayman Britt also previously explained: “We have partnered with an organization that can get it done the way the county wants to do it. They can get it done quickly and they will be able to get it done in a way that represents the way the county operates, how we want to make sure we are fiscally responsible, and we’re not missing anything when it comes to following all protocols from the federal government.”

A spokesperson from the Grand Rapids Chamber was not immediately available to comment. 

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