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Pasco businesses struggle to receive aid amid weeks of construction impacts

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(The Center Square) – After almost three years, Pasco’s Lewis Street Overpass Project is nearing completion, but business owners are still grappling with its impact.

The $36 million project replaced a historic underpass and created a link between several neighborhoods and Pasco’s Central Business District; however, according to the Tri-City Herald, its construction cut off several blocks and impacted dozens of businesses for weeks.

In response to the ongoing impacts, Pasco City Council held a special meeting last week and created the Small Business Microenterprise Grant Program. The move intends to support businesses through the closures by providing grants of up to $15,000 to cover operating expenses.

During the meeting, Deputy City Manager Richa Sigdel recommended that the city award funds as businesses apply over a period of two months. She said as of May 1, five applications had been submitted.

“[What’s] not surprising is the fact that many people feel like they cannot meet the requirements of the grant,” Sigdel said.

While the new Lewis Street Overpass opened on April 26, crews are still working to demolish the old underpass and fill in its hole. According to the city’s website, the process could continue until August.

When creating the new grant program, Pasco City Council reallocated $370,000 from another Lewis Street project to fund the loans; however, that money comes from the Community Development Block Program, which is federally funded and administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, subjecting it to federal standards.

Recently, Pasco released a map and documents outlining the area that encompasses eligible businesses as well as a list of requirements that must be met; one federal guideline states that the business owner must earn a low to moderate income that is less than or equal to 80% of the area’s median income, according to an agenda report.

Sigdel noted how restrictive the guideline is, saying that while downtown qualifies as a low to moderate-income area, the business owners must also qualify.

“Rightly so, there’s some feelings of why do we have to go through this bureaucratic process for something we were impacted [by],” Sigdel said.

According to a 2023 Income Limit Chart for the region, HUD 80% AMI limits per household size are:

$55,170 or less for a household of one person$59,150 or less for a household of two people$66,550 or less for a household of three people$73,900 or less for a household of four people$79,850 or less for a household of five people$85,750 or less for a household of six people$91,650 or less for a household of seven people$97,550 or less for a household of eight people

Councilmember Leo Perales said most businesses within the geographic area are not eligible for this reason. He wants the city to pursue other avenues to help the impacted businesses.

“We need to really start thinking about the small businesses in our community and how we’re serving them,” Perales said.

Valerie Torres, manager of Lewis Street Tire, said her employer is one of the many businesses that do not qualify, noting that the application process is more complicated than it was to receive COVID-19 relief funds.

Despite not qualifying, she said it’s important to keep fighting for the money many other businesses desperately need.

“Out of the 39 businesses, only five applications have been turned in. That’s not just because people don’t want to turn it in,” Torres said. “That’s not because people don’t need the money. It’s because we don’t meet the requirements.”