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Back To Business Grants Program Set To Provide Funds For Minority-Owned Businesses Hit Hard By Pandemic

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A new pot of money has been made available for minority-owned businesses that took a major hit throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

As CBS 2's Tara Molina reported Wednesday, there is a focus on equity for minority-owned businesses and in particular Latino-owned businesses for a reason. City, state, and federal leaders explained that because of language barriers, concerns over immigration status, and other issues, access to help for businesses affected by the pandemic has not been equal across the state - and that is why this program is in place.

Café Colao at 2638 W. Division St. is a little slice of Puerto Rico in Humboldt Park.

"We focus on our Puerto Rican pastries," said owner Wanda Colon.

At the café, Colon has been serving a community she chose to invest in almost 20 years ago.

"I've been in this community all my life," Colon said.

But like small businesses everywhere, the longtime neighborhood favorite took a major hit during the pandemic.

"I'm so thankful to the residents within this area that have kept us alive," Colon said.

They were one of the businesses visited by state and local leaders Wednesday as part of a canvassing effort - spanning more than 100 neighborhoods across the state - to spread the word about the Back to Business grants program.

It is a brand-new recovery effort for small business owners across the state, with a focus on underserved businesses including minority, rural, veteran, and women-owned businesses.

"We know that many of them have not applied for this assistance," said U.S. Rep. Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (D-Illinois).

Garcia said grants between $5,000 and to more than $100,000 will be awarded though Back to Business, with help available in different languages.

"We want the vitality and the prosperity that these businesses and their employees bring to our communities," he said,

Eligible businesses owners can seek grant funds, regardless of immigration status.

"I think this grant is incredibly important - especially for underserved communities, like this community," Colon said.

A community with businesses like Café Colao and its neighbors - slices of a different culture, background, and history – is indeed part of what makes Chicago worth the investment.

Late Wednesday, there was no word on exactly when the grants will be awarded, but Molina is told, again, that there is $250 million in grant money available to local and state business.

For more information on the program and how to apply, follow this link.

CBS 2 is committing to Working For Chicago, connecting you every day with the information you or a loved one might need about the jobs market, and helping you remove roadblocks to getting back to work.

We'll keep uncovering information every day to help this community get back to work, until the job crisis passes. CBS 2 has several helpful items right here on our website, including a look at specific companies that are hiring, and information from the state about the best way to get through to file for unemployment benefits in the meantime.

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