Category Archives: Economy

When small businesses can’t access PPP, local governments struggle to close the gap

Business owner Irma Corado tapped into local funds rather than navigate the complex federal system. Photo credit: Annie Mulligan for The Texas Tribune

In the 17 years Irma Corado has run her international package delivery service, she had never asked any government agency for help. When her youngest son told her about a small-business county loan to help those affected by the coronavirus, she reluctantly agreed to apply.

“I was leery,” she said in Spanish, but decided to leave it “in God’s hands.” She hadn’t worked in more than two months, and her business rent and utilities were due.

The Harris County resident had reason to be doubtful. Corado said she struggled with and did not complete an online application for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP. She got to the point where the system asked about payroll, she said, and because she uses the money-transfer tool Zelle to pay her salary, she didn’t think she qualified.

The PPP has approved nearly 4.5 million loans worth about $500 billion, but it continues to leave out many business owners who don’t have an accountant on speed dial, are not computer savvy, lack the language skills to navigate the banking system or opt not to try. That has particularly affected very small businesses and those owned by people of color.

The SBA acknowledged that established businesses “knew how to work the system” to get the loans, but mom-and-pop merchants were always at a disadvantage because they lacked the resources to quickly tap into that capital.

“We are the advocate for the underdog, the smaller business that doesn’t know that these resources are available, we are doing the best we can, we only have 14 on our staff,” said Charles Abell, a spokesman for the SBA’s Houston district office, which oversees 32 counties in Southeast Texas with 600,000 small businesses.

That’s one employee for 42,000 small businesses.

In an unprecedented move, local governments across Texas have rushed to fill the void.

Continue reading at The Texas Tribune.

Wie der Ausnahmezustand auf Lesbos zum Alltag wurde

After marching themselves, a brother and sister watch the Greek Independence Day parade in downtown Mytilene. Photo by Talitha Brauer.

Nach der Flüchtlingskrise erholt sich die griechische Insel Lesbos langsam. Doch der Bürgermeister fürchtet, dass die echten Herausforderungen noch bevorstehen

Mayor Spyros Galinos at work in his office at the new town hall in Mytilene, Lesvos. Photo by Talitha Brauer.

Keine Zelte mehr, keine Müllhaufen – auch die vielen Freiwilligen sind verschwunden. Die Not der Flüchtlinge auf der griechischen Insel Lesbos hat die kleine Hafenstadt Mytilini einst auf die Titelseiten von Zeitungen in der ganzen Welt gebracht. Jetzt erinnert in der historischen Altstadt kaum noch etwas an die humanitäre Krise, die das Leben hier so lange geprägt hat. Und dennoch: Wer heute an Lesbos denkt, denkt an die Flüchtlinge, sagen sie auf der Insel.

Dabei kommen längst nicht mehr so viele Flüchtlinge wie noch vor zwei Jahren. Die Balkanroute ist geschlossen, das Rücknahme-Abkommen von EU und Türkei nach wie vor in Kraft. Doch bei den Migranten, die dort sind, wächst die Verzweiflung.

„Die Lage scheint sich derzeit zu entspannen, aber wenn man genauer hinschaut, ist es nicht so einfach“, sagt Achilleas Tzemos. Er ist Projektkoordinator von Ärzte ohne Grenzen auf Lesbos. Viele seien in überfüllten Lagern untergebracht – mit ungewisser Zukunft, was zu schweren psychischen Problemen führe. Vor wenigen Wochen zündete sich ein Syrer auf der benachbarten Insel Chios an – er überlebte nur knapp. Drei Tage davor hatte sich ein anderer in der Nähe von Athen erhängt.

Seit 2015 sind mehr als eine Million Flüchtlinge über Griechenland nach Europa gekommen. In der Hochphase landeten an einem Wochenende bis zu 10000 Menschen an Lesbos’ Küsten, hungrig und erschöpft von der Überfahrt. In der Regel warteten sie ein paar Tage, bevor sie eine Fähre Richtung Festland bestiegen, von wo aus sie nach Schweden oder Deutschland weiterreisten. Nun müssen sie bleiben, bis ihre Asylgesuche entschieden sind.

Continue reading at Der Tagesspiegel.

Snapshot: Angels feed hungry in Palermo

Palermo — A group of Sicilians gather in Piazza Indipendenza once a week. From the trunks of their cars, they separate the donated pastries from sandwiches with pork, mindful of religious restrictions.

For the past five years, the Angels of the Night, or Angeli della Notte, have put on their orange vests and driven around different parts of the city feeding the homeless, a population with a rising share of African migrants.

“Unfortunately the [European Union] does not do anything about it, we feel left to our own means,” said Giuseppe Li Vigni, a 52-year-old high school teacher who first organized the group through Facebook. “Many of the migrants do not want to stay in Italy, but their hopes are slim and nothing is done to give them a good life in the countries of departure. Sicily is beautiful and full of sun and culture, but it offers very little. There are no jobs.”

Li Vigni estimates that about 40 percent of the people they serve weekly are migrants, the others are Italians, some of whom lost their jobs and homes during the economic crisis. By now they know people by names. Like Muhammad, who came from Iran more than 30 years ago and sleeps in a camper van by the port. He takes extra food to give out to others and offers shelter to those in need.

The volunteers meet Tuesdays at 9 p.m. and drive in tandem, stopping at known spots where the homeless congregate: train stations, busy shopping streets, narrow alleys. “Do you need a hat, do you need a scarf,” they asked as one of the volunteers quickly pulled out clothes from a bag and offered them to a young African migrant. On an unseasonably cold night in January, some of the men slept in a homeless shelter, the only place for those without legal status. Others found refuge inside the train station or trains, which is illegal.

“When you walk on the streets you see them but you don’t stop,” said Anna Li Vigni, Giuseppe’s daughter, as they drove from one spot to another, in between picking up donations from restaurants and hospitals. “But when you are here, you listen to their stories and how they got here.”

Artists try to help paint new future for Douglas

A mural in downtown Douglas shows the city’s long connection with Agua Prieta across the Mexican border. Photo by A.E. Araiza/Arizona Daily Star

DOUGLAS — Like many one-horse towns after the one horse leaves, this former smelter town has struggled since it lost its largest employer almost 30 years ago.

Residents hope art — and artists — could help give Douglas new life.

One pair of artists scoured the nation and chose Douglas. Another opened a coffee shop and is promoting cross-border art shows. Yet another is creating a museum full of art cars.

There’s something magical about Douglas, artist and coffee shop owner Robert Uribe said. “We just need to enhance it.”

A Church for $28,000

The landscape, slower pace of living and cheap real estate brought two San Francisco area painters to Douglas.

“We had been in the Bay Area, each of us for a considerable length of time, sort of fed up with congestion, high prices,” said David Ivan Clark, a Canada native.

He and his partner, Mieko Hara, a Japanese painter, looked at more than 30 schools, warehouses and old churches across the country. In the end they bought a white church near the border for $28,000 — about a year’s worth of rent in Oakland — in a town they knew nothing about.

Although Douglas is the second-largest city in Cochise County, behind Sierra Vista, these days the town is not gaining many new residents. Since 1990, its population has gone from about 13,000 to 17,000, a much lower growth rate than the county and the state.

That lack of demand for property presents an opportunity to artists looking for work space and to potential business owners looking for a cheap place to set up shop.

Uribe and his wife, Douglas native Jenea Sanchez, moved back in 2011 and soon after got a small business loan to open a coffee shop downtown, right on G Avenue, the city’s main drag. In 2014, they bought the building.

“Douglas is not a disposable income town,” he said. “Our business does OK, but we serve a bigger purpose.”

That purpose is building relationships on both sides of the border. Since the cafe opened, Uribe and Sanchez have hosted photography and art workshops, open mic nights and, earlier this month, a financial aid night.

This summer, the young couple, both artists, started an art walk and in October they held their first binational event, which coincided with the largest binational art installation on the border put on by an indigenous artist collective.

In those two days, Galiano’s Café & Smoothies took in nearly as much as it normally makes in a month, Uribe said.

“There are a lot of things we can talk about that need improvements,” said Uribe, who plans to run for mayor. “But it all starts with a positive attitude.”

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Staffing shortages keep expanded port of entry partly closed

Despite a recent $250 million expansion, getting through the Mariposa Port of Entry from Nogales, Sonora, into Nogales, Arizona, can be a slow process. The reason: Lack of adequate Customs and Border Patrol staffing. Photo by A.E. Araiza/Arizona Daily Star.

A shortage of customs officers at the newly expanded Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales means there are days when many of the 20 lanes are closed.

The staffing shortage is part of a national problem. Customs and Border Protection got approval last year to hire 2,000 customs officers by the end of this fiscal year — including 170 in Arizona — but the federal agency has filled only about 800 of them. Officials attribute the shortfall to a background investigation contractor’s data breach, low polygraph clearance rates among applicants and a shortage of federal polygraph examiners, all combined with the attrition of existing customs officers.

To ease the shortage and get cars moving through the port, which is crucial to trade between the U.S. and Mexico, the city of Tucson is helping the agency find qualified applicants by hosting a job fair on Nov. 9. The Tucson Police Department will also participate.

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said the idea for a job fair came out of his visit with CBP officials in Washington, D.C., over the summer. The event will target recent college graduates, criminal justice majors, veterans and anyone looking for a career in law enforcement.

At the federal level, Arizona U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake and U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, all Republicans, introduced bills in both chambers to expedite the hiring of veterans as customs officers by having the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security work together. The bill, the Border Jobs for Veterans Act, awaits the president’s signature. About 30 percent of CBP employees are military veterans.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.