Supporting Our Small Businesses

London Breed
13 min readJan 12, 2021


Small businesses make up more than nine out of ten San Francisco businesses, employ more than half of the City’s workforce, and generate tens of billions in economic activity each year — most of which remains in our city.

San Francisco can’t recover from the devastating effects of COVID-19 on our economy without our small businesses, and after the year that they have had resulting from the pandemic, we owe it to them to do everything we can to help them recover and grow. That’s why, from the very start of the pandemic, we took swift and early action to support businesses and their workers, and why we continue to find creative ways to support businesses and advocate for additional funding from the state and federal government.

Our businesses are really suffering, with up to half of San Francisco’s small businesses at risk of permanently closing. Sadly, we know our efforts to help haven’t been enough to give every business the level of support that is so desperately needed. Business owners who have invested so much and worked so hard are at risk of losing it all. Many employees who work at small businesses have been laid off or are living with the fear that each paycheck they get could be their last.

This is a national crisis that is affecting every sector of our nation’s economy, and the federal support that was so desperately needed continued to be delayed over and over again. Businesses in San Francisco have shown tremendous resiliency and creativity, but that doesn’t make the current situation any easier.

Whether it is finding new funding sources for grants and loans, or being there to help people navigate the application process for grants and loans, we’re committed to supporting small businesses however we can.

New Grants and Loans — Up to $62 Million

Today, we announced a new $62 million relief plan for small businesses. By leveraging an unprecedented local investment we plan to provide tens of millions of dollars more in grants and low to zero-interest loans for San Francisco businesses, sustaining and building upon the support we’ve provided since the start of the pandemic. The San Francisco Small Business Relief Grants and planned San Francisco Community Investments Loans complement state and federal programs and will help us reach businesses that haven’t been able to access the funding they desperately need to survive COVID-19. We’ll have more information about how businesses can apply for these grants and loans online at

Mayor Breed picking up a book at Green Apple Books in the Inner Sunset

Helping Businesses Access State and Federal Funding

This new local support goes along with expanded financial assistance from the federal government. In December, small businesses received some desperately needed good news that Congress finally approved more federal financial support, including $284 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and $15 billion for the entertainment industry. This federal stimulus is going to help our businesses access new loans, provide relief for businesses that have been particularly hard-hit, and fund extended unemployment benefits. Now, we know that this may feel like too little, too late, but I am hopeful that it will make a meaningful difference for businesses that are barely hanging on.

Governor Gavin Newsom also recently announced new funding from the state that will provide support for small businesses throughout California. Using our one-stop resource for businesses and employees, we’ll make sure that San Franciscans receive the help they need to access this new funding and other resources we have available, including technical assistance.

This Wednesday, January 13 at 9:00am, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development is hosting a webinar to give businesses advice on applying for next round of PPP loans. Register online here.

Small business owners and employees looking for assistance should go to Businesses can also call the hotline at 415–554–6134, and employees can call the hotline at 415–701–4817. Assistance is available in multiple languages

COVID-19 Response — Stepping Up to Help Small Businesses

As we start this new year with the promise of new state and federal funding, we can look back at our efforts to support businesses throughout the pandemic.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve launched several initiatives and programs to help businesses in San Francisco. Some of the immediate actions we took were one-time, like paid sick leave for employees of small businesses, while others have evolved into ongoing support over the past 10 months, like creating the one stop resource for businesses or the SF Hardship and Emergency Loan Program (SF HELP).

In total, we’ve directed more than $24 million in grants and loans to support more than 1,230 small businesses throughout San Francisco. Additionally, we’ve provided approximately $46 million in deferred business registration fees for 100,000 businesses, deferred business taxes for 20,000 businesses, and given 19,000 businesses additional time to pay roughly $16 million in fees.

In addition to our COVID-19-specific efforts to address the immediate and urgent needs of businesses, we’re also looking ahead to our long-term economic recovery, and taking steps today that will help small businesses in the future. We’re also continuing to advocate for more resources from the state and federal government. We know the need is great and we need to do everything in our power to help our small businesses make it through.

Our Immediate Response

As it became clear early on that small businesses in San Francisco were going to need help to survive through COVID-19, we got to work creating programs and policies that would provide immediate support for businesses.

On March 11, before we issued the first Stay at Home Order, we announced a series of measures to support San Francisco’s small businesses. This included deferring businesses taxes for small businesses, deferring business licensing fees, investing in a fund to provide businesses with grants of up to $10,000 each, and launching a one-stop City website for businesses and workers seeking resources, contacts, and updates during the COVID-19 emergency:

In March, we established the Give2SF Fund to accept philanthropic contributions. Financial security for workers and small businesses was one of the three original priority areas of the fund, and we continue to direct funding from Give2SF to our ongoing programs. So far, we’ve raised $32.3 million for the Give2SF Fund, of which more than $8 million has gone to small businesses.

On March 16, we created the Workers and Families First Paid Sick Leave Program, providing private sector workers with up to 40 hours of paid sick leave.

On March 17, the day the Stay at Home Order went into place in San Francisco, I issued a moratorium on commercial evictions for small and medium sized businesses that cannot afford to pay rent due to COVID-19.

  • The Port, Airport, and Public Utilities Commission also implemented rent deferral and forgiveness programs for small and local business tenants, and the PUC offered discounts on utility bills to non-residential customers with less than 50 employees.

Treasurer Cisneros and I notified small businesses with up to $10 million in gross receipts could defer their first quarter business taxes, benefitting approximately 8,050 businesses with an average $5,400 tax payment deferral each.

In early April, we started the SF Hardship and Emergency Loan Program with initial investment of $8.5 million, which provides businesses with up to $50,000 in zero-interest loans for individual small businesses.

We directed $2.5 million for Resiliency Grants, providing up to $10,000 grants to over 300 small businesses, $1 million for Neighborhood Mini-Grants for over 300 businesses in underserved communities and for women-owned small businesses.

We created the African American Small Business Revolving Loan Fund, and have directed $3.8 million to support Black-owned businesses in San Francisco.

In April, I issued an order that capped the commission at 15% on third party food delivery companies since we know that every dollar counts and can make the difference between a restaurant staying open or shuttering.

We provided $2.75 million in grants and low-interest loans for working artists and arts and cultural organizations financially impacted by COVID-19.

Along with Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee and Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, we created a new program with $1 million from Give2SF to support family child care educators. Family child care educators are small businesses in San Francisco that provide early care and education.

In May, San Francisco launched Great Plates Delivered SF to deliver prepared meals to older adults who are unable to prepare food on their own. The meals are prepared by nearly 80 local food providers and restaurants, of which more than 80% are minority-owned businesses.

Our Continued Investments During COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic continued on longer than we thought it might back in March, we realized we needed to continue the support that we had initiated early on.

We recognize the situation with COVID-19 continues to be challenging for the City’s businesses, and we decided to further extend the deadline for businesses to pay registration fees to April 2021. This helps the approximately 93,000 registered businesses who pay nearly $46 million in Business Registration Fees.

  • We also recently extended the Unified License Fee deferral to October 2021, which will give approximately 19,000 businesses additional time to pay roughly $16 million in fees. No interest payments, fees, or fines will accrue as a result of the deferral.

Recognizing that businesses were still struggling financially and were concerned about making rent on their commercial spaces, we asked the Governor to give local governments the authority to extend our local moratorium. Now the commercial eviction moratorium has been extended statewide through March 2021.

As some of our businesses were able to reopen for a period last summer, others like nightlife and entertainment venues remained closed. We recognized the need to provide targeted support to these businesses. Last week, the legislation that Supervisor Mandelman and I introduced to waive $5 million in fees and taxes for entertainment and nightlife venues and small restaurants passed at the Board of Supervisors, giving businesses the peace of mind that they don’t have to worry about these fees.

We’ve used our funding wisely, and have used financing mechanisms to leverage initial investments and turn them into more resources that we can then give to small businesses. This allowed us to expand the San Francisco Hardship and Emergency Loan Program (SF HELP) for a total of $15.2 million.

We’ve also continued to support businesses and nonprofit organizations with programs that were in place before the pandemic, such as the Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative and Grants for the Arts.

In August, I announced $3.1 million in grants for nonprofit space acquisition and lease stabilization, including support for Latino-led organizations expanding their space and services at new affordable housing sites in the Mission District.

We announced $12.8 million for Grants for the Arts, which supports 227 grantees with an equity lens.

We directed $2.1 million in grants and design services through the SF Shines Program and Shared Spaces Equity Grants to support neighborhood businesses that need to purchase furniture and fixtures and reconfigure space in order to meet health requirements for operating.

  • These funds can still be used for businesses to be reimbursed for costs associated with their Shared Space or other storefront improvements they need to make.
Mayor Breed announcing the expansion of the JosNOW! program

Following the recommendations from the Economic Recovery Task Force, in October, we announced an expansion of the JobsNOW! program to help San Franciscans find employment, support local businesses, and advance the City’s economic recovery.

In November, we launched the Shop and Dine in the 49 campaign to encourage people to shop locally and support neighborhood stores and restaurants.

Preparing for San Francisco’s Recovery

As we’ve worked to create programs that will meet the immediate needs of our businesses, we’ve also been looking toward our future, and working to set ourselves up for recovery. That means we’re always looking for ways to make it easier and less burdensome to be a business owner in San Francisco. Thanks to the hard work of the Economic Recovery Task Force, which we convened in April, we have a roadmap for our recovery — with concrete policy recommendations and suggestions from various sectors of our economy, including small businesses.

One of the things the Task Force found, and which we’ve known has been an issue even since before the pandemic, is that businesses in San Francisco have to face complex bureaucracy and seemingly endless permit applications and processes. To help businesses survive the pandemic so they’re around for our recovery, we need to reduce stress and costs for businesses, not make them jump through costly hoops.

Shared Spaces

In June, we launched the Shared Spaces program to help neighborhood businesses use public spaces, such as sidewalks, full or partial streets, or other nearby public spaces like parks and plazas to operate outdoors. Shared Spaces allows businesses, local merchant associations, and community organizations to apply for a free, expedited permit to operate activities that are allowed under our Health Order. The program developed an easy-to-use permit application, and helped streamline the permit process so it was easier on our small businesses.

Now, sadly, many of these amazing Shared Spaces can’t be used right now for outdoor dining due to our current surge of COVID-19 cases, but we are still committed to making parts of the Shared Spaces program permanent after COVID-19.

Mayor Breed talking with Amparo Vigil, small business owner of Puerto Alegre, at Valencia Street Shared Spaces

Proposition H — Save Our Small Businesses

Our system for permitting small businesses to open and operate was broken before the pandemic, but now it’s a matter of life and death for countless restaurants, retail establishments, and other businesses that we know and love in our community. That’s why I introduced Prop –Save Our Small Businesses — -in June, and why an overwhelming majority of voters supported it, because we don’t have time to waste. In November, I issued an Executive Order to implement Prop H within 30 days. We’re moving quickly to implement these changes now and help our small business community not only survive, but also recover and help get our economy back on track.

Ongoing Advocacy

I have worked with local, state, and national partners to advocate for regulatory relief from both state and federal government around employment benefits, including unemployment, sick leave, disability, and other matters to ensure employees going to work are safe and protected. Since the early months of the pandemic, we advocated for additional resources for small business and workers through the federal CARES Act.

Over the last ten months, I have joined Mayors in the Bay Area, throughout California, and across the nation writing countless letters, making frequent phone calls, and communicating directly to our representatives outlining San Francisco’s priorities and needs. This pandemic required us to use every advocacy tool available to ensure that our residents and businesses received the support they required to stay safe and healthy, as well as able to make a living. We’re grateful for Speaker Pelosi’s leadership and her efforts to secure the funding our business, transit agencies, and state and local governments so desperately need.

We worked with the state to get personal protective equipment for small businesses and their workers. In August, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, the California Office of the Small Business Advocate, and my office announced the delivery of over one million surgical masks, 600,000 face shields, and 150,000 bottles of hand sanitizer for distribution to businesses and workers in the city’s most vulnerable communities, including in the Mission, Bayview, and Chinatown.

Mayor Breed helping distribute personal protective equipment to small business owners in the Mission

We continue to advocate for support from the state and federal government. Any additional dollar we receive will make a difference for businesses that are in danger of closing for good.

Keeping a Focus on Equity

From the beginning of our COVID-19 response, we’ve made sure we focused on equity — and our approach to supporting businesses is no different. We’ve been intentional about supporting businesses that have been unable to access traditional financial capital and have funded minority-owned, women-owned, and immigrant-owned businesses, among others.

From the start, many of our loan and grant programs were designed to expand access to cash for small businesses who may have difficulty accessing more traditional loan products, and help sustain them through the ongoing public health crisis. More than 60% of the awarded business owners come from low-income households. SF HELP loans have gone to businesses in every district in San Francisco, and have successfully supported 288 women- and minority-owned businesses. 52% of SF HELP recipients were women-owned businesses, and 75% of loan recipients were minority-owned businesses.

Using funding from Give2SF, we’ve been able to direct private philanthropic contributions to help small businesses, and to fill the gaps in federal and state financial assistance. We were able to help people who may not have been able to access traditional financing. We were there for our small businesses that couldn’t access traditional financial capital before, and we’ll continue to be there for those who need help.

Do Your Part — Shop Local

The new federal relief package and our expanded local support will help, but for those of you who are looking for a way to support your local businesses over the coming weeks and months, one thing you can do is shop local. Local businesses are still open for in-person retail at a limited capacity, or you can order ahead on the phone or online and pick up your order curbside. However you choose to shop, I hope you’ll continue supporting San Francisco stores and restaurants.