Help for Small Businesses in a Worsening Pandemic

by | Dec 11, 2020 | COVID-19

Clockwise from top left: Ernesto Bobadilla, Consumer & Business Affairs Specialist, LA County Department of Consumer & Business Affairs; Carl Kemp, Environmental Health Public Affairs Manager, LA County Department of Public Health; Sarah Fisher, Economic Justice & Community Partnerships Manager, LA County Aging and Community Services; Alisa Shudofsky, Director of Pro Bono Programs, Bet Tzedek Legal Services

County, legal community offer a variety of services

Also available in Spanish, Chinese, and Korean.

By Mark Hedin, Ethnic Media Services

Calling this “the most dangerous time for LA county” since the pandemic began, county officials and a leader of a nonprofit law firm outlined a broad range of programs to assist small businesses and their employees at a Dec. 10 virtual conference for ethnic news media.

Although the county can’t provide all the relief needed by the sector, the programs have attracted interest from individuals and county administrators across the country.

“These are difficult times for small businesses,” said Carl Kemp, environmental health public affairs manager of the county’s Department of Public Health. Until the health crisis eases, “it’s critical that we follow protocols,” he urged, citing the latest restrictions that limit grocery stores to 35% customer capacity, retail stores to 20%, restaurants to take-out and delivery-only business, and more.

The website for staying up to date is: http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/eh/index.htm.

The county has instituted a voluntary program for businesses that entails watching a 37-minute video covering safety protocols and guidelines tailored to specific business types and includes a brief survey. Completing both earns participants a certificate for display to assure customers that the business is complying with safety standards.   

So far, Kemp said, 14,673 businesses have completed the training program to earn the certificate – a lot easier than having to post the multi-page Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control’s protocols.

“Employees can take the training too,” he said. 

The website for the certificate program, available in 13 languages, can be accessed at this address: http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/eh/covid19cert.htm

For customers or employees who feel that a business is not taking the threat of COVID seriously enough, anonymous complaints can be registered by calling (888) 700-9995 or through https://tinyurl.com/LACountycomplaints. Complaints will be investigated, Kemp said, and if a violation is identified but not remedied, there are possible fines ranging from $500 to $1,000.

“The goal is not to punish,” he emphasized. “The goal is to protect.”

Ernesto Bobadilla, consumer and business affairs specialist with the county’s Department of Public Health, introduced the small business Disaster Help Center, initiated March 26 in conjunction with WDACS, the county’s Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services agency.

Already, it’s fielded 33,000 calls, he said, and 2,300 emails, primarily in English, Spanish and Korean, to provide information on four key concerns: funding sources to help make up for business revenue lost from closures and declines in business; issues around eviction and rent moratoriums;  protocols for safety and re-openings; and rent assistance.

“Even if we don’t provide the services,” he said, “we will direct callers” to helpful services. The Disaster Help Center can be accessed by phone at (833) 238-4450, or on the web at https://tinyurl.com/DisasterHelpCenter.

On that site, he added, visitors can request a month’s supply of PPE supplies – personal protective equipment including face shields, masks, gloves and sanitizer — for up to 100 people. The public/private sector partnership program is called PPE Unite.

“It’s one less cost, a cost-saving we are providing,” Bobadilla said.

Also, in conjunction with the Department of Consumer Business Affairs and the Office of Small Business, the department has created a “concierge unit” to start, expand and grow small businesses in a variety of ways, such as transforming from a “brick and mortar” business model to an online one.

Bobadilla also described the Procurement Technical Assistance Center, which can help COVID-impacted businesses find new opportunities through contracting directly with the government. Through this program, he said, a company could find customers for its products or its services in federal, state and local governments. 

Find PTAC at: https://dcba.lacounty.gov/ptac/; or by phone: (323) 881-3694; or by email at: ptac@dcba.lacounty.gov.

There is also the possibility of procuring a grant or a loan. The state of California, he said, will be announcing a new grant program within the next two weeks with $5 million to disburse to restaurants and there is more help expected in the new year. Even if the Disaster Help Center cannot itself provide such aid, it can help make businesses aware of other entities that can, as such assistance becomes available.

Sarah Fisher, economic justice and community partnerships manager of WDACS, displayed a colorful array of graphic art, in a multitude of languages, intended to spread awareness of how Angelenos can best keep themselves and their communities safe and healthy.

The artwork, which includes industry-specific messages with a priority on essential workers and businesses, can be found at the website https://www.saferatwork.la/ and is free to download and print.

 Besides the posters and placards, other Safer at Work efforts include a mural going up in Boyle Heights and plans to place sandwich boards in community business corridors. 

Alisa Shudofsky, who directs pro-bono programs for the nonprofit Bet Tzedek Legal Services (https://www.bettzedek.org/), described her agency’s partnership with more than 50 law firms to assist small businesses regardless of immigration status.

She cited recent studies finding that among shuttered businesses, “there’s been a 40% drop in black-owned businesses, a 32% drop in Latinx-owned businesses and also significant drops in immigrant and female-owned businesses.

“So we stepped up our efforts to do outreach to these small businesses to help them get up on their feet, stay on their feet, find the assistance that they need from a legal perspective,” Shudofsky said.

Bet Tzedek and its partners provide legal education – these days, mostly through webinars open to any business – and free legal services, provided according to a financial eligibility standard determined in an application process. 

Ben Tzedek can be reached at (323) 939-0506, or by email at: intake@bettzedek.org.

Services provided so far, Shudofsky said, include renegotiating commercial leases, contract enforceability, how to be a good employer, insurance issues, and how to start a new business.  

Mark Hedin

Mark Hedin

Reporter

Mark Hedin is a reporter for Ethnic Media Services. He has previously written for the Oakland Tribune, the Central City Extra, the San Francisco Chronicle, El Mensajero, the San Francisco Examiner and other papers.

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