ABIC Executive Director Rebecca Shi and Small Business Owner Pilar Guzman Testify in Congress to Support $175M ‘Community Navigator’ Program to Help Underserved Businesses Recover and Thrive

Small business subcommittee will discuss how local nonprofits, business advocates and government agencies are partnering to help underserved small businesses nationwide

CHICAGO, IL — ABIC Executive Director Rebecca Shi will testify along with small business owners and business advocates on Thursday, March 18 at 10 a.m. EST at a subcommittee hearing titled The Role of Community Navigators in Reaching Underserved Businesses. The hearing is organized by the Subcommittee on Underserved, Agricultural, and Rural Business Development, a part of the House’ Committee on Small Business. 

The hearing will explore how a pilot program created and implemented by ABIC is providing underserved small businesses across the country the technical assistance they need to help them weather the pandemic. The program focuses on helping African American, immigrant, rural, and other underserved and isolated businesses access critical government resources, including the Paycheck Protection Plan, federal and state small business loans and grants. The American Rescue Plan includes $175 million to fund the “community navigator” model to support small businesses across the country. The community model was recently highlighted by the White House to ensure fair access for businesses that need it the most.

Over the last 11 months, ABIC has implemented the “community navigator” model in Illinois, Florida, Texas and South Carolina to assist growers, and Black and immigrant entrepreneurs. The model was adopted by the State of Illinois Department of Commerce and by the Cook County Community Recovery Initiative to disburse local business recovery grants allocated by the Cares Act. 

So far, the program has helped more business owners of color access government relief. From October to December of 2020, the program increased participation by Black business owners by 25% and Latino business owner participation between 30% and  46%. For more highlights of the program, see below.

Representative Nydia M. Velázquez, Chairwoman of the Committee for Small Business, said:

“Underserved businesses, particularly immigrant businesses and those owned by people of color, have been cut off from critical relief too often throughout this pandemic. The Community Navigators program has the potential to get these businesses the aid they deserve by empowering business assistance organizations with deep ties to these communities. I look forward to working to ensure that this program is successful and helps as many underserved small businesses as possible.”

Representative Maria Elvira Salazar (FL-27), a member of the Subcommittee on Underserved, Agricultural, and Rural Business Development, said:

“Small businesses are the backbone the South Florida economy, but many small business owners often struggle to access government relief to keep their businesses afloat. One of those business owners is Pilar Guzman Zavala, who, after trying unsuccessfully with several banks, was finally able to receive access to federal assistance thanks in large part to ABIC’s “community navigator” program in Florida. Because of the help she received, she was able to keep her restaurant open and her employees on payroll – much to the benefit of our community. I hope this program can do the same for businesses across the nation.”

Pilar Guzman Zavala, CEO of Half Moon Empanadas, said:

We applied to the PPP. And it took us 3 banks to finally get the PPP. We went to a large bank, who was not responsive. Then I moved to a local medium-size bank that was overwhelmed.  Our Community Navigator finally got us the support we needed. They connected us with a local bank that approved us quickly. It took only 2 days. This helped us stay afloat and keep our employees on payroll. And because I am part of a network of businesses, we were able to help other women and Hispanic-owned companies get the support they needed, from processing documentation and gathering paperwork, and helping many local businesses get PPP.

Toni Preckwinkle, President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, said:

“Cook County is proud to partner with an organization that centers equity in the work they do to ensure businesses get the financial support they need and access to a network of expert business advisors. As thousands of County businesses finally experience some relief, I am confident that they are more prepared to navigate the long road to recovery precisely because of the resources provided through our partnership with the ABIC team.”

Sylvia Garcia, Acting Director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Development (DCEO) said:  “From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Pritzker has prioritized delivering economic relief in a way that would reach all of our communities and businesses quickly and equitably. With communities of color disproportionately impacted by the pandemic– the state of Illinois turned to ABIC and other community partners to launch our community navigator program which provides targeted support to reach the hardest hit businesses in the hardest hit communities. This collaborative approach has helped shaped the deployment of over $1 billion in assistance and resulted in a record level of small business grants awarded to minority owned businesses across Illinois.”

Rebecca Shi, Executive Director of ABIC, said:

“The economic recovery of our nation’s small and underserved businesses is necessary to ensure our nation’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Small business owners — especially African American, immigrant, rural, and other underserved and isolated businesses — are the engines of their local economies. ABIC thanks Congress and President Biden for including 175M for Community Navigators in the American Recovery Plan. ABIC thanks Chairman Ben Cardin, Senators Marco Rubio and Susan Collins, and Chairwoman Nydia Velazquez and Representative Maria Salazar for working tirelessly over the last 11 months to make improvements to the PPP, especially for the smallest borrowers, growers, and lenders.”

Key takeaways from ABIC’s community navigator program:

  • As the Community Navigator Program ramped up from October to December, 2020, Black participation increased 25% and Latino participation increased between 30% and  46%. 
  • Black and Hispanic applicants were 16% and 7% of the applicant pool, respectively, in September and October (started taking applications September 15). As Community Navigators continued to ramp up technical assistance and left the application open over time, that increased to 21% and 13% in November and stayed elevated through December.
  • Over half of the applications for Black (53%) and Hispanic (57%) applicants were received in November and December, compared to 46% of applications overall received in those months.
  • Over two-thirds (69%!) of our Spanish applications came in in November and December, compared to less than half (46%) of the total pool.
  • In sum, our Community Navigators had over 20,000 applications by the end of October, so we could have stopped then, but we would have been leaving out a lot of businesses that could most benefit from the program, particularly in minority and Spanish-speaking communities that we targeted with technical assistance and outreach from our navigators.

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The American Business Immigration Coalition (ABIC) promotes commonsense immigration reform that advances economic competitiveness, provides companies with both the high-skilled and low-skilled talent they need, and allows the integration of immigrants into our economy as consumers, workers, entrepreneurs, and citizens.