A coalition of chambers of commerce in Oakland asked Tuesday for millions of American Rescue Plan funds from Alameda County to help keep businesses afloat in the rough waters of the pandemic.
The coalition includes the Oakland Chamber of Commerce, Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce, the Oakland Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce, the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce and the Oakland Latino Chamber of Commerce.
The five made their request so they can provide grants to businesses, do outreach, grow the chambers and provide technical assistance to businesses.
Alameda County supervisors met Tuesday afternoon to discuss the allocation of the county’s share of money from ARP, the stimulus package approved by Congress earlier this year. The supervisors made no commitment to any one organization but voted 5-0 to divide $48 million into four broad categories, including economic development.
Of the $48 million, $23 million will be given out as grants and the balance will be available through the county’s procurement process. About $10 million will go toward economic development.
The coalition of Oakland chambers wants small businesses to each get monthly grants of $2,500 for six months, which they estimate would consume $5 million of the $9 million the coalition is asking for. The $5 million would go toward rent owed by the businesses, equipment and renovations, and marketing.
Jennifer Tran, executive director of the Oakland Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview Monday that the area is not out of the pandemic yet.
“If this is not a state of emergency, then what is?” Tran said.
The onus to find funding to help businesses stay afloat should not be on the businesses, she said.
“We’re hurting enough,” she said.
The five chambers said in a letter to the supervisors that businesses owned by people of color face language barriers and a lack of relationships with traditional lenders, in addition to problems created by the pandemic.
Funding from a previous federal stimulus package in 2020 allowed the chambers to provide technical assistance to more than 500 small businesses, but for many the support was not enough, the letter said. The money could not go toward rent or as direct grants.
Owner Lele Quach of Cam Huong, with two locations in Oakland, had to release 70 percent of her employees. She has considered closing her deli after being denied grants from the city and Alameda County, among other providers.
Tran said Oakland’s diversity helps make the city unique and that diversity depends on small businesses.
The city runs the risk of losing that diversity if its businesses do not get help, she said.
The five chambers want $400,000 each to grow, $200,000 each to educate the businesses they serve and $200,000 each to help businesses access resources to recover.
“COVID-19 lay bare the human cost of systemic racism, bureaucratic dysfunction and poverty,” the chambers’ letter said.
Tran could not say Monday whether any other chambers of commerce in the U.S. have secured ARP money from their elected leaders and if so, whether that made a difference.
But the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce raised money recently that was successful at preventing 250 businesses from closing during the pandemic. The chamber raised $1.1 million and provided direct grants with the money.
Tran called on the supervisors to consider funding the chambers, saying, “Fund those resources that will keep our communities not just afloat but together.”
“It’s the right thing to do,” said Cathy Adams, president and CEO of the OAACC.