Some local businesses struggle to find funding assistance due to exclusions

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EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The County of El Paso and some local administrators are bringing more financial assistance opportunities for small businesses negatively impacted by COVID-19 in El Paso County.

$10 million from the County is being dispersed into various grant and loan programs, known as the Financial Assistance for Safety, Technology, and Economic Resilience (F.A.S.T.E.R).

The County says the goal is to provide aid to small businesses in rural areas outside city limits, and minority along with veteran owned businesses.

The El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is one of the administrators involved and urges those interested to apply fast.

“As we’ve known and we’ve seen through the PPE, the idle loans and the grants, money goes very quickly. So if you are interested I would recommend you visit our website, go to our landing page that has the application there for you to print out and send to us, Terri Reed, Senior Vice President of Entrepreneurial Development with EPHCC said.

So far, the EPHCC has received 60 applicants. The deadline to apply is March 15. For more on eligibility requirements, click here.

Meanwhile, not all businesses are eligible to apply for these grant and loan programs with the County.

Puff Social Hookah and Cocktail lounge has been operating in El Paso since 2012. During a time a need, the business said it’s been quite restricted from applying and receiving local funding resources.

“Puff Social did everything morally, ethically, and legally correct and we’ve been shut down since March 2020,” Christopher Ferris, owner of Puff Social shared.

Ferris is one of many business owners searching for opportunities to reopen, however doesn’t qualify under the newly rolled out F.A.S.T.E.R grant and loan programs with the County.

“Puff Social is a business that has paid every tax, every permit, rent and any other expense and operates accordingly just like the next set that are eligible. Now when it’s time to give back and help a true local small business, we’ve been in operation for 9 years, we get shut out,” Ferris told KTSM.

Some businesses that are excluded from these grants include age-restricted business: from establishments that sell alcohol, sexually oriented businesses, smoke shops, and local tobacco shops.

“So the age-restricted exception from this funding source is unacceptable. It’s discriminatory, and bias,” Ferris said, “Just because we may not fall into a category that is pleasing or accepted to people or a group does not make my business ineligible and illegitimate.”

El Paso County Commissioner David Stout said the purpose is to continue promoting and encouraging a healthy lifestyle for the community amid the pandemic.

“This whole issue has to do with public health, it has to do with a disease that affects people’s health so it would be very ironic for us to be incentivizing or helping business that really don’t fall in line with what the County’s mission is when it comes to trying to better people’s health and health care,” Stout explained, “So I think that’s kind of the basis of wanting to exclude those business.”

Ferris shared if he doesn’t reopen his business soon, it could completely shut down, “From the people that are supposed to help us and be there for us, it’s definitely a driving factor in reopening.”

The owner of Puff Social said he plans to continue working with the business’ legal and medical team to figure out the next steps of when to reopen its doors.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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