Editorial: Ensure grant money gets to small businesses in need of help
It's been a tough year for everyone but small and family-owned businesses have taken it on the chin especially hard.
From restaurants and bars to boutiques and antique stores, they've felt the pinch of nine months of restrictions and the fear wrought by the coronavirus.
But in addition to their own hard work to make ends meet, shop owners must take advantage of grant money that is available to help.
We urge state, local and chamber of commerce leaders to keep pushing to get word out to all eligible small businesses that money is available, and for business owners to learn how to go about getting some of that aid.
The state's estimated 1.2 million small businesses employ 45% of the workforce and they help form the backbone of the Illinois economy. Their health, and a decision on more economic stimulus from Washington, will be keys to any recovery that rumbles to life in 2021.
Small business assistance grant programs have been offered by county governments -- Lake County, for example, awarded $16 million in grants to 1,195 businesses, and Kane County has extended its application program -- and through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity with its Business Interruption Grant.
BIG is one of the largest of its kind in the nation, distributing $540 million in federal CARES Act money to the tune of $270 million for small businesses and another $270 million for child-care providers and businesses. To date, more than 5,500 BIG grants worth $141 million have been provided to small businesses in Illinois.
Nearly $129 million in funding remains, state officials say, and while there is no deadline to apply, DCEO expects to award money through the end of the year.
BIG provides grants of $5,000 to $150,000, tailored to the amount of pandemic-related losses, for businesses with less than $20 million in annual revenue. It's important to note these are grants, not loans, and the money can be used to pay for operating expenses, such as payroll to retain employees, rent, utilities and PPE.
"It's made a huge difference for them to know they can keep their business afloat and keep their employees and customers safe," DCEO Director Erin Guthrie told us.
Since the summer, DCEO staffers have been reaching out to local government and chamber officials to push awareness about the grant money, with a special emphasis in hard-hit industries and for minority-owned businesses.
They've done webinars with chambers to walk business owners through the application process and provided technical support. That has continued during the second virus surge this fall.
But there is still work to be done to make sure grant money gets to every business owner who wants and needs the help.