By Anaridis Rodriguez

CHELSEA (CBS) – Chelsea’s Cafe El Dorado has a storied past. “We were in business since 1981. Our bakery burned down on Thanksgiving, in November of 2013,” said co-owner Jenny Camacho.

It took nearly seven years for the landmark, first established by Jenny’s in-laws, Carlos Camacho’s parents, to re-open. And once they did, they were shut down again, this time by a pandemic.

“We opened March 1 and the following week everything shut down,” Jenny said. “It was heartbreaking. But we wanted to stay open and start getting to know our customers once again. There’s a lot of people that still remember the old bakery.”

Determined to keep their dream alive, the Camachos applied for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, only to find out they didn’t qualify. For one, they opened two weeks after the cut off date set by the Small Business Administration. They also didn’t have the payroll required for eligibility. Among the rules, borrowers had have to been in operation on February 15, 2020, have established banking relationships and documents tracking payroll expenses.

“It was crushing because I was hoping to have some support. It’s crushing to know that the resources are there and you just don’t have access to them,” Jenny said. “We are a small Latino business that’s trying to thrive.”

So, the Camachos turned to the Chelsea Business Foundation and MassDevelopment. Through their assistance, they got a grant. So far, it’s the only relief funding they’ve been able to secure.

MassDevelopment and the Chelsea Business Foundation have secured small block grants that helped 22 businesses. Double that number applied for the limited funds.

“For Latino-owned businesses, in particular, and Black-owned businesses, the PPP program has been an absolute failure,” said Betty Francisco, co-founder of Amplify LatinX, a non-profit helping build Latino economic and political power. “There’s difficulty with the types of information needed to even apply. A lot of small businesses, especially the ones I worked with, in providing technical assistance to access the loans, didn’t necessarily have a payroll. Many were independent contractors, some are cash businesses, having the documentation was a huge challenge.”

Earlier this week, the SBA released a breakdown of loan disbursements by state. In Massachusetts, the agency said 73% of small business payroll was covered by PPP loans.

“It’s not representative. We’re doing a small business poll right now with Mass. Inc. and what we’re finding is there’s still about 30% or so [small businesses] that never even applied for PPP,” Francisco said.

Michael Klein, economist and professor at The Fletcher School at Tufts found that amounts for half of the loans disbursed, that were $150,000 or less, were under $22,000. “These small businesses are under a great deal of stress right now. And the way to [reach out] is to devote more resources to the implementation of the program. People in small businesses don’t have the bandwidth, along with everything else that they’re dealing with, to be able to fill out these forms and to comply with all of the requirements that are needed.”

Last week, President Trump signed a law extending the deadline for applying for a PPP loan. Over $100 billion of unclaimed relief loans are still up for grabs. Francisco says the system needs to be reformed.

“It might be that grants are better suited for these smaller businesses to get them back up and running,” said Francisco. “It’s critical, these businesses are gems in their communities. They create jobs. They maintain the cultural character of their communities. And to lose them would fundamentally alter these local economies.”

Anaridis Rodriguez

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