Will Jawando is the Trailblazer of the Community, Policy & Governance Category in Ayoo Africa’s 2020 Top Ten D.C Awards.
Below is a lightly edited transcript of the interview between Councilmember Will Jawando, and The Water and Grain’s Co-Host, Sheba Kereere at the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic. The audio version is on Spotify.
Montgomery County’s COVID-19 Response to Small Businesses and Entrepreneurs By Sheba Kereere
Activist. Community Leader. Proud Nigerian-American.
Water and Grain: “This Nation was built on small businesses. With the economic mayhem that is happening because of the COVID-19 virus, what is Montgomery County doing to help small businesses and entrepreneurs?”
Councilmember Jawando: “Not only are small businesses the backbone of America, they literally are the backbone of Montgomery County’s economy, which is ninety-five percent of the businesses here. We understand that, and we are trying to keep people safe, by flattening the curve to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 by taking necessary steps. Businesses have been forced to telework or close depending on your industry.
We realize that this is a big strain on our economy, on many people’s bottom-line, and the businesses themselves. We put together a thirty-six million-dollar COVID Relief package to try to aid small businesses and nonprofits, and to help our most vulnerable residents.
A big part of that related to small businesses is a twenty million-dollar emergency grant program. This is for employers with one hundred employees or less, and they can apply for a small business grant for up to seventy-five thousand dollars. Again, these are grants and not loans, and don’t need to be paid back. They are meant to mitigate the losses that many businesses are incurring right now. There is information on the County’s website and my website. There are obviously other resources at the State and Federal level as well.
We also made sure that we gave ten million dollars to our hospitals, and five million in direct assistance to County residents who otherwise are not going to be eligible for Federal assistance. These would be undocumented folks that still need assistance. We also made some investments in our food service, and hotel and motel rooms for medical staff. It’s not going to cover every problem, but hopefully it gets out there quickly and tries to stem some of the immediate need.”
Water and Grain: “In your own prediction, how long do you think it’s going to take us to rebound?”
Councilmember Jawando: “We don’t know the answer to that question. We are in an unprecedented time right now. No one alive has dealt with something like this. We are trying to figure it out as we go. One thing we know is things will not be as they were before. Despite, in my view, horrible dysfunction in being late to the game at the Federal level, we in Maryland and in Montgomery County are taking steps to flatten this curve. Hopefully by the summer we will be remerging into some form of normalcy. We are all in this together.”
Water and Grain: We have a beautiful mix of International small businesses and entrepreneurs in Montgomery County. We have our own people of African descent within this group. What message would you like to share to express the severity of the current situation?
Councilmember Jawando: “In much of the Country and I suspect here, many of those people (infected with COVID-19) are black and of African descent, and there are disparities. Part of that is long held health disparities within our community and lack of access to care, but part of it too is information and taking it seriously. We want to make sure that we come out of this and have not been decimated as a community.”
His Survival of COVID-19 Tips:
1. Take it seriously
2. Take advantage of the resources
3. Create a sort of normalcy
4. Give yourself some grace
5. Take this time for self-reflection
6. Support your community
7. Perspective is important
Water and Grain: “Thank you so very much Councilmember Will Jawando for making the time to have this conversation with us.”
Councilmember Jawando: “Thank you for having me.”