Gotham Gazette

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New York Must Protect Our Immigrant-Owned Small Businesses

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Small businesses are the lifeblood for so many (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

As cases of COVID-19 rise once again, New York is faced with a second wave that could force “nonessential” businesses to shutter their doors, and for many this may be permanent. This would hinder profitable operations and wipe out families’ income without proper support. In the Bronx and across New York City, we are powered by immigrant-owned small businesses that are essential to our communities and to our economy’s success. Yet, they have faced immense and disproportionate hardships due to the pandemic.

Diminishing, almost non-existent, access to federal assistance programs has left many business owners with nowhere to turn. Without additional access to loans and grants to help pay for salaries, rent, and bills, we can expect a drastic decrease in small businesses, including many that have been staples of our communities for decades. It has already happened in far too many cases as the coronavirus has devastated New York and the federal government has not come through.

This is something that we all can see and feel as residents of the Bronx, which from the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic has been one of the hardest-hit boroughs. However, we are a community of diversity and resilience.

Even as financial hardship has hurt them, some Bronx restaurants are making sure their community members have access to food since other industries have faced even more dire restrictions. La Morada turned its operation into a soup kitchen, making about 650 meals each day to help unemployed New Yorkers and disabled adults without the ability to cook on their own.  

While some places are able to provide hope, many businesses are starting to run out. Over the next few months a third to almost one-half of all New York City restaurants and bars could permanently close up shop due to increasing uncertainty and the ever-changing business environment brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. As the restaurant industry cripples under financial pressure, so does the hard-working immigrant community, which makes up over 60 percent of the workforce in the industry. Both of which are essential to New York’s vibrant culture and prosperity. 

Today, almost half of all small businesses are immigrant-owned. And, as coronavirus sparked uncertainty for everyone across the board, undocumented workers continue to face disproportionable hardships. From being left out of federal relief in the CARES Act earlier this year to new reports that undocumented immigrants across all of New York City will be left out of city aid, there is a continued financial strain and little help in sight for one of the hardest-hit communities. 

Fortunately, there are policies we can enact that will help New York’s immigrant communities. As a new member of the State Legislature, I am committed to passing meaningful legislation such as the Empire State Licensing Act, a common-sense solution that would expand access to the appropriate professional licenses — regardless of immigration status — needed to enter the workforce. Additionally, I will be focused on the Excluded Worker Fund would provide assistance to those traditionally left out of wage protection and unemployment benefits, such as undocumented immigrants, and the Lift the Caps legislation, which increases street vendor permits and licenses, many of whom are immigrants. 

As a newly-elected Assembly member, I will work to end the nonsense that is bickering and excuses within government that is supposed to be helping people. I will fight consistently and effectively alongside staff and other elected officials in the Assembly and the Senate to pass legislation that will promote small businesses that represent staples of our community yet are left without financial relief. The state needs to make significant investments in the immigrant communities and immigrant small businesses that breathe life into our economy and help our communities thrive. This means that we need a budget that reflects our morals and community needs, and one that invests in our people, not threatens economic hardship through austerity.

I promise my district that we will fight and champion legislation that builds not just equality but also the equity looted from our communities for far too long. 

Only with a response that is geared toward helping the most vulnerable communities overcome financial hardships, keep their businesses open, and get back to work can we rebuild towards far greater equality and success. We can’t let up and will not stop until our community members, and all small businesses in the Bronx and beyond, are made a priority.

Kenny Burgos is the Assemblymember for the 85th District, in the Bronx. On Twitter @KennyBurgosNY.

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