BROCKTON – Amelia Goncalves came to the United States from Angola in 1996, and by the start of the next decade she and her family had opened a restaurant in Brockton serving the kinds of West African dishes she grew up on.
Like any restaurant, Luanda Restaurant and Lounge has had its ups and downs with the economy over the years. But the COVID-19 pandemic that arrived at the start of 2020 really put a strain on the business.
When Governor Charlie Baker’s administration introduced a $668 million small grants program for small businesses in late 2020, the Goncalves family applied for and received $75,000, the maximum grant available.
“It has helped us pay a lot of bills and keep our business going,” Goncalves said Wednesday as she welcomed Baker and other heads of state to announce the availability of a new round of funding, albeit from a smaller sum, for small businesses still in difficulty. of the pandemic.
Baker traveled to Brockton on Wednesday to relaunch a small grants program for small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, visiting the West African restaurant Les Golcalves to mark the opening of the application window which will end with $75 million to support businesses like Luanda Restaurant and Salon.
The program is funded by money from the American Rescue Plan Act and last year’s state budget surplus, and succeeds a $668 million Baker Small Business Relief Fund created in late 2020. which also relied heavily on federal funds. The Legislature recapitalized the program as part of the $4 billion ARPA relief bill passed late last year.
“This program has proven to be a lifeline and a game changer for so many businesses here in the Commonwealth,” Baker said.
The ARPA Surplus Bill has made $50 million in grants available to small businesses impacted by COVID-19, with priority given to businesses that serve socially and economically disadvantaged communities and those owned and operated by minorities, women, veterans, members of the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities.
The remaining $25 million in grants is earmarked for companies that did not previously qualify for relief funding under the original program. The application period opened at noon Wednesday, and businesses will have five weeks to apply for grants of up to $75,000 that can be used on everything from payroll, mortgages and rent to COVID safety supplies. -19 or outdoor restaurant upgrades.
Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation President Larry Andrews, who will administer the grants, said his goal is to start giving out funds by late April or early May. Andrews said the timing of the awards will depend, in part, on the volume of applications received, and he expects the program to be oversubscribed.
“To the small business owners who may be watching this right now, your resilience and optimism is infectious and truly inspiring. We thank you and want to support you further,” Andrews said.
Jaysen Goncalves, Amelia’s son, said the grant his family received last year helped the restaurant build an outdoor dining area, which they had always wanted, and stay afloat when d other businesses were failing. But restaurants still face supply chain issues, inflation and rising ingredient prices.
“It’s been very helpful during a very tumultuous time. But the effects of the pandemic are still being felt, especially for many small businesses like ours,” Jaysen Goncalves said.
Jon Hurst, president of the Massachusetts Retailers Association of Massachusetts, expressed support for state and local governments to direct more federal dollars toward supporting small businesses, but said the size of this new program subsidies barely scratches the surface of need.
“You have to wonder what local and state governments are waiting for to spend more of their ARPA funds,” Hurst said. “Are they expecting darker window displays? Are they waiting for COVID to be totally in the rearview mirror so they can spend it on unrelated purposes?
The state still has about $2.3 billion in uncommitted ARPA funds, and Democratic leaders have yet to set a timeline for when they might consider spending that money. Cities and towns also received their own pots of money from the federal relief bill.
“Those who believe small business failures are over don’t understand that you can’t survive indefinitely on both lower sales and much higher costs,” Hurst said.
Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito said “it’s up to us” to support local businesses by shopping and dining at local establishments.
“Make a plan to hang out with your friends and family and really support the small businesses that are the fabric of our republic,” Polito said.
Baker lamented that the event took place in the morning, not the evening, when he could have ordered takeout food. After promising to be back with his wife and friends for dinner, Jaysen Goncalves told him that delivery to State House was an option.
“Do you really deliver to the State House?” Boulanger asked. “Great. I’m done with that.”