New statewide grant programs will offer $225 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to support small businesses hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic through three new initiatives.
Gov. Tom Wolf announced businesses can use the grants to cover operating expenses during the shutdown and help them transition into reopening.
Closer to home, Jordan Grady, executive director of the Butler County Chamber of Commerce, remains hopeful the programs will negate the damage done to Main Street businesses.
“If you look before this pandemic, Main Street was making a huge comeback, especially here in Butler County,” Grady said. “This pandemic hit, and a lot of those smaller specialty vendors and restaurants were hardest hit by this.”
On Monday, the state rolled out its Main Street Business Revitalization Program funded by $100 million to support small businesses that experienced loss due to the governor's orders in March that closed many businesses across the state for weeks, and then months.
“We have to make certain that our florists and our barbers and our coffee shops emerge from this pandemic with a viable path forward,” Wolf said.
Another $100 million in federal dollars will fund the Historically Disadvantaged Business Revitalization Program aimed at helping small businesses that have or will incur costs to adapt to new business operations related to COVID-19 guidance issued by the state.
And finally, the Loan Payment Deferment and Loss Reserve Program will be funded by $25 million and provide relief to qualified borrowers who took out loans through Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI).
All of the programs provide grant assistance that does not require repayment.
Details on how to obtain the funding were not specified.
Wolf said the Department of Economic Development will oversee the programs, but the distribution of the grants will be through local community organizations. The Pennsylvania CDFI Network is a group of 17 state-based Community Development Financial Institutions that primarily provide financing options for small businesses.
“We know how important it is to support the smallest, most vulnerable businesses throughout the commonwealth, including historically disadvantaged and Main Street businesses,” said James Burnett, vice chairman of the state's CDFI Network.
Grady said there is a lot to like about this latest round of CARES Act funding. He said breaking the funding into separate programs and advanced oversight of the programs offer protections for those seeking grants and keeping some from misusing the programs. He said there is also a large difference between the new $225 million funded programs and the $60 million in state programs offered earlier in the pandemic.
He added how these most recent CARES Act programs were produced in partnership with state legislators.
“Obviously a substantial increase from the previous state effort,” Grady said. “It's definitely positive news today.”
Wolf said he and state legislators need to continue to focus on recovery efforts moving forward.
“We're going to keep looking for ways to help Pennsylvanians get back on track and stay healthy,” Wolf said.