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City Council Evaluates Disaster Relief Fund, Seeks Additional Support for Minority-Owned Businesses

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Cambridge City Council met in person each Monday in the Sullivan Chamber.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Cambridge City Council met in person each Monday in the Sullivan Chamber. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Maria G. Gonzalez, Crimson Staff Writer

The Cambridge City Council unanimously approved a measure Monday evening requesting city personnel to support Black and minority business owners applying for financial assistance from the Mayor’s Disaster Relief Fund.

Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and City Manager Louis A. DePasquale activated the Mayor’s Disaster Relief Fund in March to provide emergency assistance to residents experiencing financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic. The fund also provides grants of up to $10,000 to businesses, which do not need to be repaid.

In an April interview with The Crimson, Siddiqui said the fund was an important resource for helping constituents.

“We want to make sure that people are being housed, are being fed, have their basic needs, and it’s not going to be perfect. We aren't reaching everyone,” Siddiqui said at the time. “It's something that we have to constantly monitor.”

The fund, comprised of donations from residents and local corporations, totaled more than $4.7 million as of Aug. 20. The city has already distributed roughly $3.7 million to individuals, families, and local businesses.

As of July, however, some local small businesses stated “they had not previously heard about this program” and “they had been unfairly left out of consideration for obtaining these critical funds,” per the policy order submitted by City Councilor E. Denise Simmons.

“Day after day, week after week, my office...has been contacted by individuals who are saying: ‘I applied, I didn't get any money,’ ‘I didn't know there was a program,’ or ‘I didn't have a technical support to make it work,’” Simmons said during Monday’s council meeting.

“We have to find ways that are stringent — intentional — to reach out to these groups,” she added.

Simmons’s policy order seeks to ensure all businesses are given “every reasonable opportunity to participate” in the program.

The measure urges the City Manager’s office to direct its outreach methods to the city’s Black and minority-owned small businesses. It also requests the City Manager and the Community Development Department provide technical support to underrepresented business owners seeking funds from the Mayor’s Disaster Relief program, as well as for similar state and federal programs.

Other businesses that the policy order targets are businesses that are not part of neighborhood business associations and businesses that do not rely heavily on electronic communication.

Simmons said the City must conduct outreach to vulnerable businesses to ensure they are not overlooked when it comes to receiving assistance from the fund.

“I have to believe that we want to make sure that we want to reach everyone. That what we love about Cambridge is its cultural diversity,” she said. “But if we are not intentional about how we reach out to those groups, we're going to miss them.”

—Staff writer Maria G. Gonzalez can be reached at maria.gonzalez@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @mariaagrace1.

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