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Citizens beg county to spare Mom and Pop grants
By Wayne Tompkins
Sharon Frazier-Stephens' homegrown enterprise, Touched by Angels, was inspired by the 1990s television show.
It was Miami-Dade County's Mom and Pop Small Business Grant Program, however, that gave the small cleaning business the money it needed to thrive.
"I started with one vacuum cleaner," Ms. Frazier-Stephens recalled. "Through the grant program I was able to buy six vacuum cleaners, a carpet shampooer and a buffer and I am working on other services."
Touched by Angels, targeted to low-income elderly and busy working mothers, is typical of the home-grown Miami-Dade cottage businesses helped by the Mom and Pop program, which is one of several programs to be eliminated under Mayor Carlos Alvarez's $240 million in proposed budget cuts.
The program is one of many where battle lines probably will be drawn between the mayor and commissioners, who must approve the cuts and who have consistently expressed support for the Mom and Pop program. Dennis Moss, arguably its most vocal commission supporter, earlier this year sponsored a resolution that will feature the program's success stories in a show to be aired on the county's TV channel.
"The proposed budget includes reductions totaling more than $240 million," Mr. Alvarez said. "It goes without saying that this budget was extremely challenging to prepare, and difficult decisions had to be made. All departments and many worthy programs have been impacted by the reductions, including the Mom and Pop Business Grant Program."
The mayor added that the reductions are only proposals, and "I anticipateÖ county commissioners will make changes in the coming week prior to the budget's final adoption."
The Mom and Pop program provides grants of up to $10,000 for qualified businesses throughout the county. Ms. Frazier-Stephens was one of three dozen people at a packed Sept. 6 hearing on the proposed county budget who pleaded for commissioners to spare the program.
"Many times, we cannot turn to the banks for loans," said Angela Roberts, who runs a Perrine restaurant. "These grants allow us to expand our businesses. We pinch every penny, and the grants allow us to stretch pennies to make dollars and help others."
Mom and Pop has grown from a 1999 program of $50,000 in grants in District Three that today annually awards nearly $2 million in grants to 600 businesses countywide, with each of 13 commission districts getting $150,000, said Leroy Jones, executive director of the Neighbors to Neighbors Association, which administers the program.
Funding can be used to buy equipment, supplies, advertising, marketing, inventory, building liability insurance and security systems and to make minor renovations.
Mr. Jones said the businesses, which must have seven or fewer employees, also on average do business with three vendors. Many also are involved in community activities, such as sponsoring youth sports teams.
They also generate tax revenue for the county, "so the county is getting some of that (investment) back," he said.
Businesses receiving grants are randomly audited and the grants are reimbursable, meaning funds are not released until a business presents documentation for an authorized expense. Mr. Jones said his department has lacked the resources to study success rates since 1999 but that anecdotally the number of grant recipients still in business is "very high."
Ms. Roberts was joined at the hearing by other Mom and Pop beneficiaries, among them a single mother who owns a Tai-Kwan-Do business, an auto parts vendor and a caterer.
They spoke to commissioners about the jobs their businesses have generated, the safe haven they often provide for at-risk youth and the physical improvements the businesses have contributed to neighborhoods.
"We're a family owned businessÖ we have taken an eyesore and in eight months hired three new employees," said Carrie Rozier of the Gourmet Cookie Café in Miami. "A little goes a long way. It was a vision hatched only because we had the opportunity of Mom and Pop."
Adrian Ellis said the program helped get his event catering and party rental business off the ground, allowing him to "show my kids you can do it if you just get out there and do it."
The commission will hold another hearing on the proposed budget at 5:01 p.m. Sept. 20 at the Stephen P. Clark Government Center.