Published in Small Business

Translators hired to help Asian businesses apply for Kent County COVID-19 funding

BY Sunday, July 12, 2020 08:14pm

Kent County officials have provided $40,000 to help minority business owners facing language barriers access COVID-19 relief funding.

The West Michigan Asian American Association Inc. explained to county officials the importance of hiring translators, writers and financial experts to help Asian-owned businesses apply for some of the $25 million in grants the county received to help small businesses during the pandemic. The Small Business Recovery Program was created by Kent County using a portion of $114.6 million in federal money received through the CARES Act in response to coronavirus.

Bing Goei chair of the Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce MIBIZ FILE PHOTO

COVID-19 relief funding has not been issued equally for minority business owners throughout the pandemic, in part due to language and cultural barriers.

“There are a lot of unique challenges small businesses have that those in charge of formalizing the process might not even think about,” said Bing Goei, who chairs the Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce. Goei also owns Eastern Floral and The Goei Center in Grand Rapids. “Sometimes you see minority-owned businesses that are not awarded these grants, especially when English is their second or third language.”

The $40,000 will be used to hire 15 people who speak different languages in the Asian community, including attorneys, financial consultants, writers and translators.

As of July 1, 865 businesses applied for funding through the Kent County Business Recovery Program. Of those applicants, 27.2 percent were minority-owned and 22.7 percent were women-owned businesses. The largest portion of applicants designated a Caucasian/white ethnicity on their application, totaling 298. Applications also included 142 African-American owned businesses, 133 Asian-owned businesses and 155 Hispanic-owned establishments.

The program will continue to accept applications until funds are exhausted, Dante Villarreal, vice president of business and talent development at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, previously told MiBiz. Villarreal said he expects the fund will eventually award 2,500-3,000 grants.

“Many of these small businesses are a one- or two-person operation and they’ve got their heads down and are working hard and only talk to a financial consultant once a year to do their taxes,” Goei said. “Having all the paperwork ready to apply for aid is really a challenge.”

Challenges like this exist for every small business when it comes to applying for COVID-19 aid, Goei said, but minority-owned businesses face additional barriers from things like cultural and language differences. In Kent County, roughly 20 different languages and different variations of dialects are spoken within the Asian Pacific community, Goei explained, which is why they sought out funding to help businesses owners with the application process.

“What we’re also finding in our Asian communities is some business owners are hesitant to even apply because culturally they have never heard of a program like this,” Goei said. “They question the legitimacy of it and don’t apply, which means they won’t get a piece of that funding.”

When a committee is reviewing applications and they come across forms filled out incorrectly, they will be more likely to pass over that business for relief funding, Goei explained, which is what they are trying to avoid.

The county’s Small Business Recovery Program — administered by the Grand Rapids Chamber — has faced criticism from groups like Start Garden and Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses, as previously reported by MiBiz. The organizations have said the $750,000 awarded to the chamber to administer the program should be issued to the other groups directly for assisting with the grant program.

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