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Nearly a thousand businesses benefited from B-Cares, Bakersfield says in breakdown of program

Restaurants, hotels and personal care businesses were the primary benefactors of Bakersfield’s B-Cares coronavirus grant program.

In the first detailed breakdown on the federally-funded project, the city of Bakersfield explained how it distributed nearly $6 million to 938 businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of those businesses, Wool Growers Restaurant in Old Town Kern, received a much-needed boost.

The storied establishment was battling many of the pandemic’s ills — no indoor dining, staffing constraints, a nearly year-long economic downturn — when a massive plumbing issue hit its kitchen and forced the restaurant’s week-long closure in mid-January.

“When it rains it pours,” said Wool Growers co-owner Christiane Camou. “We’ve been hemorrhaging. It’s been a nightmare year.”

Camou said she was concerned she wouldn’t be able to make ends meet. Then, one morning she received an email from the city that the B-Cares grant her restaurant applied for in the fall came through.

“It really couldn’t have been better timing. I was crying. Hey, we can pay the plumbers now,” she said. “It seems like we keep going into this pit. But this was a great piece of news that we needed. So appreciative that we got it.”

Another local restaurant, Los Tacos de Huicho on E. 18th Street, reported using B-Cares funds to provide workers with personal protective equipment during the pandemic.

“That way we had people safe at home and safe at work,” said restaurant owner Nadia Nunez.

In addition, the restaurant bought a new tortilla machine in part to attract patrons during a pandemic-induced slow period.

“We want our customers to know that we are here,” Nunez said. “We are making everything fresh.”

Unsurprisingly, restaurants and hotels — which have been among the hardest-hit industries from the pandemic — were at the top of the city’s list, receiving around $1.7 million in funds. Personal care services received the largest number of grants, however, when added together. Nearly 200 businesses providing personal care services received around $1.1 million.

Together, the two industries received far more than any other business sector. The city listed the medical industry as the third highest recipient, receiving $540,000 in grants.

“We are extremely proud of the success of the B-CARES program and the support it provided to local businesses in need,” City Manager Christian Clegg said in a statement. “We appreciate the community feedback in helping us design a low-barrier program to assist our smallest businesses that were not eligible for other programs. We are also grateful for the terrific work done by our Finance Department to not only create this program, but to execute it in an extremely short period of time.”

Distributed over the course of four months, the city provided businesses with grants ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 depending on the number of employees. Grants could be used to reimburse the costs of interruptions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The city targeted businesses with 25 or fewer employees and sought to aid owner-operators, who had been overlooked by previous loan programs like the Payroll Protection Program and Kern Recovers due to little or no payroll expenses, according to city research.

City staff had to put in long hours to get the program up and running from scratch. With an online platform and hundreds of applications to review, Finance Director Randy McKeegan said his office had to work extra hard to get the funds out on schedule.

“It was a lot of man hours on my part and my staff’s part just to review these applications,” he said. “I was working weekends quite a bit just to get the things reviewed. But we got it done and at the end of the day it was a successful program. We felt like we got funds out to businesses that really needed them.”

In total, the city aided 17 industries, touching on nearly all aspects of life. A total of around $3.9 million went to businesses with five or fewer employees.

“It’s not huge dollar amounts,” McKeegan said. “But at least it helped them cover rent for a month, or maybe it was supplies or materials.”

Of the 447 denied applications, 43 percent did not receive a grant because their business existed outside the city limits. Other reasons for a denial included companies applying without a business license, some businesses were not operating a year before March 1, 2020, as was required, and others were duplicate applications.

While the program is now closed, the city said its success could lead to local officials revisiting the issue should more funding become available in the future.

Californian News Editor Teddy Feinberg contributed to this report.