Meng Awards 1 Million for Small Business Legal Desk 

Congresswoman Grace Meng allocated one million dollars for the Queens Chamber of Commerce to start a Small Business Legal Desk. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

By Iryna 

Small businesses in Queens will soon have access to free legal advice in five different languages through a new pilot program spearheaded by the Queens Chamber of Commerce. 

Congresswoman Grace Meng, who represents much of the borough, awarded the Chamber with a check for $1 million outside the Small Business Development Center at Queens College in Flushing. 

“This will consist of pro-bono, professional support to help small businesses avoid costly issues and mistakes that could impact the force and the strength of our workforce,” said Meng at the event on Thursday. “It will especially help small immigrant owned small businesses and link the small business community that I’m proud to represent.” 

She also pointed out that when business owners run into legal hurdles, they may not know exactly where to turn. Without resources to have a lawyer on retainer, or prior experience dealing with legal issues, they can fall victim to scams and end up in a worse situation than before. 

With the funding, the chamber will bring aboard lawyers, accountants and human resources professionals who can advise business owners in times of need, and in multiple languages – Mandarin, Korean, Bengali, Russian, and Spanish. 

Tom Gretch, President and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, recounted that during the pandemic, many business owners lost out on available government assistance, such as the Paycheck Protection Program loan, due to language barriers and a lack of expert advice. 

“We see the importance, especially in places like downtown Flushing, and other areas of Congresswoman Meng’s district, the importance of outreach, which is why we have people that speak different languages on staff,” said Gretch, who noted that Asian-American communities are growing in size and influence, both locally and across the nation as indicated by the 2020 Census count. 

Queens Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Gretch applauded the initiative. Photo by Iryna Shkurhan

The Queens Chamber of Commerce represents over 1,400 businesses that employ over 150,000 Queens based employees in a range of industries. 

As the daughter of small business owners, who went from working in one of Flushing’s first Chinese restaurants to owning their own, Congresswoman Meng says the cause is personal. 

“They are helping to create jobs, they are helping to provide much needed services and goods that otherwise we would lack in our local neighborhoods,” said Meng. “And they provide a source of comfort.”

The Chamber is not the only group helping business owners take off, and stay afloat, in the borough. Several speakers at the event pointed out that the Small Business Development Center has been a key supporter of entrepreneurs and small businesses owners for over two decades.

Since 2001, advisors at SBDC have worked with close to 8,000 businesses, and helped invest over $100 million in the local economy, according to their website. They help business owners navigate a range of actionable steps, including setting up a business plan, marketing, securing funding, exports goods and adhering to regulations. 

“This is news that’s important not only for the Chamber of Commerce, but for everyone who lives and works in the world’s borough,” said Frank H. Wu, President of Queens College, at the gathering. “Small businesses are the lifeblood of this community.”

OPED: Higher Education is essential to Queens

The City University of New York (CUNY) has a rich history, dating back to the founding of the Free Academy in 1847. Townsend Harris, then President of the City’s Board of Education stated “let the children of the rich and poor take their seats together.” Queens and York Colleges, CUNY Law School, LaGuardia and Queensborough Community Colleges are all descendants of that tradition. CUNY is embedded in the fabric of Queens. By keeping these institutions strong and making them more affordable, we will ensure our students and our economy continue to thrive.

Two years ago the Brookings Institution, a well-respected Washington DC based public policy organization, ranked CUNY as among the top colleges nationally for providing upward mobility for its graduates. Students from families in the bottom 20 percent income level experienced the greatest increase in potential earnings.

Our public universities and colleges have struggled to maintain enrollment over the last several years. A range of factors has contributed to this problem, especially the rippling effects of the COVID-19 health crisis. However, our lack of state support and tuition increases shoulder much of the blame. Cuts in state support and the strain of the TAP Gap (the difference between the Tuition Assistance Program and the actual cost of tuition) forced administrators to reduce services, neglect infrastructure and technological needs, and lay off adjuncts. Rising tuition rates deterred students who simply could not afford the cost of an education.

This year’s New York State Budget included historic investments for CUNY. When we assumed the majority in the Senate in 2019, we began the process of reversing a decade of neglect and cuts to our CUNY schools. As Chairwoman of the State Senate Higher Education Committee, I take great pride in helping facilitate this sea change, along with my colleagues. We have not increased tuition and expanded TAP and opportunity programs, as well as funded more full-time faculty.

This new budget will begin to address infrastructure needs with hundreds of millions of dollars in appropriations for capital projects, which will provide prevailing wage jobs. Additionally, we are making a substantial investment in on-campus childcare so Queens families can continue their academic pursuits, with the benefit of having their children nearby.

These are steps in the right direction for CUNY, but I believe we can do more. Too many students graduate from college, starting their careers owing thousands of dollars in student loans. I have sponsored a bill, that passed the Senate, to increase the income level for TAP eligibility from $80,000 to $110,000. This will offer relief for middle class families who are struggling with the extra costs of textbooks, ever-evolving technology needs and other school related costs. If we spend smartly and invest in the right programs, I am confident we can improve our schools, grow our enrollment and lower the cost of college.

I have said many times that the P3 concept should be applied to higher education- a public-private partnership with the business community is essential. By working together, each will benefit. I look forward to working with the Chamber on these issues.

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