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Advocates Worry Latinx Communities Aren't Taking Full Advantage Of Pandemic Relief

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

What was dubbed the American Rescue Plan has made millions in pandemic relief money available to businesses and families. President Biden says the influx of cash will also help underserved communities.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We know that Latinos have historically faced discrimination when it comes to securing support for their businesses. But my administration, I promise you, is going to stand with you to invest in Latino-owned businesses and rebuild, in the consequence, the backbone of this country.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But Houston-based entrepreneur Tom Castro is among those - first reached by NBC News - who say they're worried that some Latinos aren't seeking out everything the government is offering.

Tom Castro joins us now. Welcome to the program.

TOM CASTRO: Thank you, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As both an investor and an immigration advocate, you have seen firsthand the need in Latino communities. These communities are also among the hardest hit by the pandemic. So why wouldn't they take advantage of what the government is offering?

CASTRO: Well, Lulu, there are several reasons. One is many Latinos don't want government handouts. They pride themselves in providing for their families. There is a sense to some people that this is like welfare or food stamps, and they don't really understand that 85% of all Americans are eligible for these programs.

So the second reason is there is a fear of government, for lots of reasons - historical. There are people think the government could do them harm and engaging with the government to apply for any of these programs could lead to trouble. And then I think there's a third reason, which is just red tape. Some people just think it's too hard, that they won't qualify, or they don't believe it's real.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And there is a lot that is on offer. Several rounds of funding have taken place during the course of this pandemic - $1,400 then $1,200 then $600 at different times, and the child tax credit. And then of course, there's the PPP program. Is the government doing enough to communicate what's there for the taking?

CASTRO: They haven't done a hell of a lot. I mean, it's in the general news, but it's somewhat confusing. The rules have changed throughout the pandemic. So phase one of the program had certain restrictions on families that had mixed status, where one spouse might have been here legally, the other spouse not here legally. And they were not eligible last year. But now with the Biden program, they are. For that new development to get through to people, it takes a lot of communication. And there's a lot of disinformation out there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And so what has been your experience in trying to help people access the funds, and how has that played out?

CASTRO: I have helped families, and I've been thinking about how as a society we can mobilize to help perhaps millions of families. So one family, they are small business owners. They have a Mexican restaurant here in Houston. So it's a family of six, mother and father. So I met them. And it turns out they qualify for all of these programs. And as a result of working with them, you know, it took some time, but their family will eventually get $19,200.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: These funds could potentially be game-changers. It's a lot of money.

CASTRO: It is, whether you own a business or not. My hope is that we can replicate that manyfold across the nation. And it's good for all of America if our families are more financially secure, our small businesses are more financially secure. That leads to employment. These people are going to spend the money. They're going to pay taxes on whatever they spend. And as a society, we will all be better off.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Houston entrepreneur Tom Castro, thank you so much.

CASTRO: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.