San Diego County accepts applications for $17 million small business stimulus program

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors meeting chambers.
(Howard Lipin/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Businesses impacted by COVID have until October 16 to apply but are encouraged to apply earlier before funds run out


San Diego County supervisors Tuesday, July 7, unanimously approved guidelines for the county’s new $17 million small business grant program in hopes of bolstering the region’s ailing businesses.

The program, which supervisors originally green-lit in May, is funded through funds the county received in the federal CARES Act COVID relief bill Congress passed in late March.

To qualify, nonprofits or for-profit businesses must be headquartered in San Diego County. They must employ 100 or fewer people and must have been operating at least a year as of February 14, 2020.

The businesses also must provide documentation describing their financial hardship due the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This program will provide a much-needed lifeline to small businesses and restaurants within the region to help them open ... and prevent them from going out of business,” said Ebony Shelton, director of the county’s Office of Financial Planning.

Business owners have until Oct. 16 to submit an application to the county but are being encouraged by county staff to apply early, before available funds run out.

The funds will be awarded in the form of grants and will be broken up among each of the five supervisorial districts. Each county supervisor’s office will award $3.4 million worth of grants to businesses in their districts.

Businesses will be able to use the funds to support efforts to respond to the pandemic, including providing paid sick leave to workers, purchasing personal protective equipment, promoting outdoor business and responding to other COVID-related business restrictions, among other things.

Business owners can find the application online on the county’s website at:

During the Tuesday, July 7, board meeting supervisors debated putting out the application in several languages.

Translating the materials before making the applications accessible would have required hiring an outside firm and would have caused a three-week lag time, said County Chief Administrative Officer Helen Robbins-Meyer.

Instead county supervisors instructed county staff to provide translation services immediately, as needed. Robbins-Meyer said the county will also partner with the region’s ethnic chambers of commerce to provide translation services as well.

“We want to make sure we are serving all of the community equitably,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob. “At the same time, we need to get this money out the door.”

Some business owners said they’re eager to apply for the grants.

“I’m going to apply today,” said Roger Chan, vice president of the Crystal Palace, an event venue near El Cerrito that closed in March because of the pandemic.

Chan said the business is not making any money and his bills are stacking up. The business received some government payroll assistance but he was recently denied a business loan, he said.

“We are just bleeding money each month that we are not back in business,” he said.

Maxine Zepeda, owner of Ryan Bros. coffee shop in City Heights, said she wanted to apply for the county’s grant program, but her business is ineligible because it has been open for only eight months.

Zepeda said she plans to help the owners of a restaurant next door apply for the grant. She said the owners, who are from Cambodia, do not speak English well and have hesitated to apply for loans and grants because they don’t know how to fill out the applications.

She said there needs to be more assistance for business owners like her neighbors.

“They just post these applications, but it’s not easy,” Zepeda said. “It’s not simple to apply ... I couldn’t understand them myself and I speak English.”

County supervisors are scheduled to have their next board meeting the first week in August.

-- Charles T. Clark and Andrea Lopez-Villafana are reporters for The San Diego Union-Tribune