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San Diego County Officials Push People To Use New Small Business Relief Program

Pedro Fernandez, who owns Vallarta Taco Shop with his wife, has seen his City...

Photo by Matthew Bowler

Above: Pedro Fernandez, who owns Vallarta Taco Shop with his wife, has seen his City Heights business slump during the pandemic. Now he's worried he won't qualify for pandemic relief programs. Photographed on January 4th, 2020.

County officials and business leaders on Monday urged small businesses to get with a state program that’s handing out $500 million in grants.

The grant program launched late last week, right before the holiday. Officials said that was done to try to make sure the online application system was ready to handle the heavy demand, once business owners returned in the new year.

Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.

The money, part of the federal stimulus that was handed to the state, will reach small businesses struggling through the pandemic. It offers them grants between $5,000 and $25,000, depending on the size of the business. Unlike previous government loan programs, these are grants and they don’t have to be paid back.

“I know how incredibly difficult COVID-19 has been on our small business community,” said county supervisor Nathan Fletcher, during a press conference encouraging business owners to sign up for the program.

“Businesses who did nothing wrong. You went into the personal care business, or the barbershop or salon business, or restaurant business — a year ago we never would have contemplated this situation.”

RELATED: City Heights Farmers’ Market Reopens, Providing Fresh Life To Farmers And Community

Reported by Max Rivlin-Nadler , Video by Matthew Bowler

Originally, the deadline for business owners was this Friday. But sensing a tight deadline, state officials extended the deadline to 11:59 p.m. Jan. 13.

Unlike other pandemic relief programs, this one isn’t first-come, first-serve, meaning no applications will be reviewed until Jan. 14.

The San Diego & Imperial Small Business Development Center has developed a series of webinars and is offering to help walk small business owners and non-profits through the application process.

Officials stressed this won’t entirely solve the problems facing small businesses, but it will help them hopefully make it to the next round of government funding. As the pandemic rages on, many businesses have been forced to stay closed.

“This is an opportunity for non-profits and small businesses to be able to get a little bit of relief and the state of California is here to support them,” said Daniel Fitzgerald, regional director of the San Diego & Imperial SBDC Network.

These grants could be some help for small business owners in City Heights, like Pedro Fernandez, who owns Vallarta Taco Shop with his wife. He says business there has been nearly non-existent, while he closely adheres to the county’s safety protocols.

But he says his business has been blocked from other support programs, like the program with the county, because his family took over the business just this past June after the previous owner ran out of money at the beginning of the pandemic.

“In order to claim any help from the county, you have to have filed taxes before, under this business. So we’re not eligible for it. We just have to ride the wave. We’re not eligible for any help because we haven’t owned this business for more than a year,” Fernandez said.

The state program comes with a similar requirement, that the businesses must be in operation since at least June 2019, so it’s possible the taco shop will be locked out from help once again.

Businesses and nonprofits can sign up for the program through an online portal at


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