Cook County suspended one of its federally funded small business grant programs after being challenged on constitutional grounds.
The lawsuit, filed in December on behalf of Domenic Cusano, Jr., a chiropractor in Chicago, alleges that the Small Business Source Growth Grant program treats applicants “differently based on the race of the owner, particularly those of color”. He claimed that he gave priority to race.
The lawsuit said it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, which “discriminates an individual on the basis of membership of a racial group,” and that Cusano, “a white man who identifies as white,” is “a on an equal footing with applicants for The lawsuit was filed by California-based law firm Pacific Legal Foundation. According to the company’s website, it is an organization that “defends the liberties of Americans when threatened by government excesses and abuses.”
“We recently filed a lawsuit against the county regarding the Cook County Grow Grant Program,” the program website said. We have chosen to restructure and redesign our grant program.”
“It is wrong for the government to grant preferential treatment based on race,” Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Andrew Kinio said in a release at the time the lawsuit was filed. “The government, in total disregard for the Constitution, seeks to pick winners and losers on the basis of race.
The Grow Grant was announced in late September. The federal government plans to use funds from the COVID-19 American Rescue Plan Act to award $71 million in grants to small businesses in early 2023. Bridge the racial wealth and opportunity gap to businesses that have been historically excluded, including those owned by entrepreneurs of color, women, veterans, LGBQT+, and people with disabilities,” County said. According to the release of
Applicant is a for-profit business in Cook County with fewer than 20 employees, operating prior to the pandemic, and “experiencing reduced revenue or gross income, increased costs, or increased financial uncertainty due to COVID. You’re “needed”. Applicants were asked to mark ethnicity, race, and whether the business is owned, operated, or controlled by at least 51% of her minorities. The program suspension was first reported by Cook County Record.
“There were no restrictions on applicants,” Prekwinkle spokesman Nick Maciodis told the Tribune in an email. “Any company that met the eligibility criteria below and submitted an application with all the correct documentation would be considered.”
However, the application also noted that priority would be given to “historically excluded populations.”
Cusano’s complaint sought to permanently ban the county from “enforcing” a program that favors minority business owners and to pay attorneys’ fees and $1 in damages.
The 22,000 individuals who applied for assistance in October have been in limbo since. CBS2 reported earlier this monthCounty officials plan to launch a larger program in the coming months, but business owners will have to apply again.
“We are canceling the program in order to fund small businesses as quickly as possible rather than filing lawsuits,” Prekwinkle said at a press conference Thursday after the county commission’s monthly meeting. , decided to rebuild and improve.
When asked if the county had concerns about whether the program could be considered discriminatory when it was released, Laura Lechowicz Felicione, special counsel in Preckwinkle’s office, said: I’m here. I was relieved when the grant was structured and issued, but based on the lawsuit, it could take time to fight it in court. ”
“We will work with grant sub-recipients and referral partners to restructure the grant,” continued Lechowicz Felicione. She will “review possible eligible census tracts” and submit the revised program to the county board for approval “in late spring or early summer.”
“All business information contained in submitted Grow Grant applications will be kept confidential and secure,” Mathiowdis said. The revamped grant program is expected to “include additional funds” unused from his $1 billion ARP distribution for the county. “Companies that have previously applied will need to reapply, but may not need to resubmit previously provided documents.”
Prekwinkle encouraged companies to visit Cook County Small Business Resource Websiteoffers events and business advice sessions.