There’s no question that small businesses and nonprofits have been seriously impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Boarded-up buildings and closed signs are now a common sight in small and large towns across the United States, including those in California.
“The impact of COVID-19 on small businesses in our area has been devastating, particularly in the retail and hospitality sectors,” says Clare Briglio, the communications and business disruption resource director of the Economic Development Collaborative in Camarillo. “Since March of last year, we have fielded over 14,000 calls from businesses looking for financial assistance and consulting services.”
The state’s Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Program is meant to help business owners and nonprofits keep their doors open.
“The Main Street economy is essential to all economic ecosystems,” adds Briglio. “While larger chains and big box retailers have their place in urban environments, small independent retailers often create the culture of a community or at the very least create a ‘spirit of place’. They add a sense of belonging and identity.”
Between December 30 and January 13, the program cutoff date for the first round of grants, more than 300,000 applications were received. Beginning on January 22 and for the following 45 days, the approximately $500 million was distributed to approved businesses.
“The grants do not have to be paid back, so this is, in essence, ‘free’ money at a time when many business owners need it for ongoing business expenses, such as payroll,” says Lysa Urban, marketing manager for Women’s Economic Ventures in Santa Barbara.
WEV is a member of the California Women’s Business Center network, she explains, which is one of the partner organizations for the California Relief Grant.
“While WEV is not involved in receiving applications, we see our role as raising awareness about the grant and answering questions about the application process,” Urban notes.
The amounts ranged from $5,000 to $25,000, determined by the businesses’ annual revenue: businesses reporting revenue from $1,000 to $100,000 are eligible for $5,000; those earning $100,000 up to $1,000,000 qualify for $15,000; and those with more than $1,000,000 up to $2,500,000 revenue can receive $25,000.
All applications were reviewed; it was not a first-come, first-served type of program. For those who were not approved, or did not apply during the first round, a second, and final, round of applications was accepted between February 2 and February 8.
Businesses that were eligible for these grants were scored on various COVID-19 impact factors, including the following [listed on https://careliefgrant.com/]:
- Geographic distribution based on COVID-19 health and safety restrictions following California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy and county status and the new Regional Stay At Home Order;
- Industry sectors most impacted by the pandemic; and
- Underserved small business groups served by the state-supported network of small business centers (i.e., businesses majority owned and run on a daily basis by women, minorities/persons of color, and veterans, and businesses located in low-to-moderate income and rural communities).
Women-owned businesses have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, explains Urban. And as WEV CEO Kathy Odell says, “Our mission to economically empower women has never been more relevant as we emerge from a year when women were devastated by the wide-ranging effects of the pandemic.”
In January, Governor Newsom called for another $575 million in additional grants for the California Relief Grant Program. If this action is approved, it would bring the total amount of COVID-19 business relief grants to $1.075 billion.
“The California Relief Grant is a much-needed opportunity for business owners to get emergency working capital to keep their businesses open,” says Nicki Parr, WEV’s associate director of strategic initiatives. “However, the demand significantly outweighs the funds available. We need to do what we can to support the small businesses in our community and to keep the pressure on our lawmakers to recognize and address the economic impact the lockdowns are having in our communities.”
“The relief grants are important for many of these businesses as many of them have exhausted their personal savings to keep their businesses open,” says Briglio. “Many have taken loans and have accessed other opportunities, but the impact of COVID has been so long, grants can be a good way of sustaining a business that has exhausted all other resources. With additional lockdowns and the length of an unknown period of disruption, businesses need all the assistance they can get.”
To find out more about any upcoming grants or additional assistance for small businesses and nonprofits, visit CAReliefGrant.com, EDCollaborative.com and WEVOnline.org.