Coronavirus closures, aid delays push more South Floridians into poverty

MIAMI – It’s not a surprise that a fight recently broke out outside of a store in South Florida. Tempers are flaring as more people are being pushed into difficult situations during the coronavirus pandemic. Joseph “Joe” Doganieri runs a body shop in Broward County. Many of his employees have worked there for so long they feel like family. But with business hurting, he is having to make some tough decisions.

Doganiere, of South West Ranches, said the business was doing so well before the pandemic the company had 37 employees. Some of them live on the edge of poverty -- paycheck to paycheck, he said. He pays them weekly.

“Every business is hurting. Even if you’re essential, and you’re open, you’re doing a third of the business you were doing a month ago,” Doganiere said.

Joseph “Joe” Doganieri (Local 10 News)

Both he and his employees are among the many in South Florida who are struggling to apply for government aid. Small business owners are having to choose between furloughs, pay cuts, unpaid leaves and layoffs in their attempt to survive the crisis.

Small business owners and workers who said they had never asked for a hand out before were making line outside of a drive-through food distribution center outside of the Second Canaan Missionary Baptist Church on Friday in Miami’s Liberty City.

“What can we do? We gotta do what we gotta do,” Bernice Stringer said. “I have my own business, a daycare and it’s shut down.”

Volunteers help to load food to cars at the Second Canaan Missionary Baptist Church on Friday in Miami's Liberty City neighborhood. (Local 10 News)

Charities that are usually helping in other areas are now trying to fill the gap. Kalenthia Munnally, who is usually working on teenage pregnancy prevention, was now helping to distribute food to those in need. The food distribution center at the church had enough for about 500 but more than 700 showed up.

“I didn’t know so many people needed food," Munnally said. "We’re doing what we can.”

President Donald Trump’s administration is working with Congress to get funding for a $350 billion paycheck protection program to help businesses to cover payroll expenses. The $2.2 trillion relief emergency bill includes $350 billion to be used to help small businesses with forgivable loans.

The Federal Reserve also unveiled plans for a $2.3 trillion program, which includes a $600 billion Main Street Lending Program to help small businesses. How the money will make it to the hands of people like Doganieri still remains unclear.

Meanwhile, the state is still investing in improving the way unemployment insurance benefits will be distributed. The need for applications was so dire, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez started to print and distribute the forms on Wednesday at 26 public county libraries.

In the first two days, Gimenez said the libraries distributed more than 46,000 forms and nearly 8,000 applicants had completed and returned the applications in sealed envelopes to local libraries.

Help for small business owners

The U.S. Small Business Administration manages four programs from the federal government to help businesses with 500 employees or less:

PAYCHECK PROTECTION PROGRAM: Private banks issue the forgivable loans. Here is the SBA’s database to find eligible lenders >

ECONOMIC INJURY DISASTER LOANS: The program provides loans of up to $2 million with a term of up to 30 years. It also provides a $10,000 advance that doesn’t have to be repaid. Here is the application >

EXPRESS BRIDGE LOANS: The program provides loans of up to $25,000 but it is only available to businesses with an existing relationship with Community Enterprise Investments, Inc., Black Business Investment Fund Inc. or Partners for Self-Employment, Inc. Working Capital Florida.

DEBT RELIEF: This program applies to loans issued before Sept. 27, 2020 and includes payments of the principal, interest and fees. It also provides automatic deferments through Dec. 31, 2020.

Florida set up a $50 million loan program for small businesses through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

SMALL BUSINESS EMERGENCY BRIDGE LOAN: This program offers loans of up to $100,000 for businesses established before March 9th and that have two to 100 employees. Here is a link to the application >

About the Authors:

Trent Kelly is an award-winning multimedia journalist who joined the Local 10 News team in June 2018. Trent is no stranger to Florida. Born in Tampa, he attended the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he graduated with honors from the UF College of Journalism and Communications.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.