Black Business Association Proposes Alternate Plan For ARPA Funds – Amherst Indy

The Black Business Association of the Amherst Area (BBAAA) held a press conference on Friday, March 22, 2024 as a follow-up to their protest over Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman’s plan for American Rescue Plan Act funding allocation.The BBAAA called for the resignation of the Town Manager asserting that the absence of any ARPA funds for Black-owned businesses “is illegal, and an injustice”. 

The BBAAA noted that $300,000 of the previous round of ARPS funds were given to a new, white-owned business in town and of the $100,000 distributed at the discretion of the Business Improvement District (BID), only $13,000 total went to Black-owned businesses. BBAAA President Pat Ononibaku said that she and the BBAAA have continued to engage in the town’s processes, including having conversations with Bockelman and submitting a suggested budget request for $1.5 million of remaining ARPA funds to “repair harm caused with the first round of ARPA funds allocation” by “prioritizing black businesses and residents not made whole from the pandemic”. 

After Bockelman’s plan for the remaining ARPA funds that did not include any funding  for black-owned businesses was unveiled this week, Ononibaku said, “We feel invisible, we feel disrespected, we feel discriminated against.” “What our Town Manager has done is to dole out money to already wealthy people”. BBAAA Secretary Amilcar Shabazz said, “The spirit of the American Rescue Plan Act is really to help those hurt by the pandemic, and from our vantage point, there have been deep impacts that the pandemic has had in our community.” He added that, “We really feel they need to reconsider what they’ve put forward so far and answer some of the requests that we have made… and designate some of this to go toward Black businesses as part of the economic recovery.” 

Vira Doungmany Cage pointed out that no ARPA funds were allocated to any Black-owned business that were already established in the community during the pandemic. “When you shut people out of access to capital, they’re going to have to leave, and that’s what happened, they exited the community”.

BBAAA Treasurer Yasmin Blandford said that “we’re not going to stop fighting” and “we need to get other people involved”. Monica Cage, a young business owner in Amherst, spoke about what being a member of the BBAAA has meant to her. “When times are rough, like now, we don’t get scared and back away. We stand up taller, head higher, and lean on each other for support.” 

The press conference was covered by Channel 22 news reporter Alanna Flood and Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Scott Merzbach. Coverage on the Channel 22 evening news can be viewed here. When Ononibaku asked members of the press whether they had received any responses from town officials to their request for comment regarding the BBAAA’s press release, she was told that no one from the Town Manager’s office, the Town Council, the BID, or the Chamber of Commerce was willing to offer any comment. 

The BBAAA’s suggested allocation for remaining ARPA funds follows.

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