Boston city councilors and businesses are calling on Mayor Martin Walsh’s administration to be more equitable in handing out coronavirus relief money to small businesses, saying City Hall isn’t being transparent about the process.
Councilors held a lengthy hearing Thursday afternoon with members of the city’s business community to discuss issues with city relief funds that small businesses and businesses run by people of color say they are facing amid the pandemic.
“We see the folks who most needed that support least able to access it,” said City Councilor Michelle Wu, citing issues with language barriers and first-come, first-served programs that favored “people who had big banks and lawyers helping them.”
Some councilors and business leaders also voiced disappointment in the Walsh administration for not showing up to the virtual hearing to answer questions about the distribution of the funds. The administration submitted a multipage a letter highlighting its plans for recovery efforts, including support for small businesses, housing security, and schools.
“It was a missed opportunity,” said City Councilor Julia Mejia.
Councilors and community leaders spoke of the frustration and confusion facing business owners trying to apply for city, state and federal relief funds, particularly as wells ran dry.
“We know many of our businesses are suffering, many have had to close their doors, if they haven’t closed their doors they have laid off their staff,” said Segun Idowu, executive director of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts. “Now folks are in a stage of trying to get as much capital as possible … everyone is applying to everything.”
Jose Duarte, a chef, and owner of a North End restaurant, detailed the struggles he faced in trying to access financial assistance as he watched business dry up at his eatery, which employs 25 people.
“What has happened to us, to me, to the small businesses, is like a trauma,” he said.
The city said it had received 3,000 applications for its small business relief fund and would issue the first round of checks “in the coming days.”
But leaders cited flaws in the process. City Councilor Andrea Campbell said there was a “lack of some equity in the process. There are still questions about what is the need for businesses that are suffering.”