Pritzker Administration Awards $46 Million in Emergency Grants to Small Businesses Through BIG Program

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First Wave of Business Interruption Grants Released to 2,655 Small Businesses Hit Hardest by COVID-19, Including More Than 50 Percent Minority-Owned 

WJOL

Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) RECENTLY announced $46 million in small business grants have been released to 2,655 small businesses located in over 400 individual cities and spread across 78 counties. The grants are the first round of the Business Interruption Grant (BIG) program through which the State will award grants to a diversity of businesses, as well as business communities hit hardest by COVID-19 related closures. A substantial portion of the BIG program is dedicated to supporting childcare providers. View the list of grant recipients online here.

To ensure ongoing support for Illinois small businesses, the State of Illinois has planned future rounds of funding. BIG represents the largest state-run economic support program in response to the economic hardship caused by coronavirus.

“I’m proud to announce the first $46 million of our Business Interruption Grant program has been deployed to help more than 2,600 small businesses in over 400 cities and towns in Illinois. That’s 78 of our 102 counties,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “The initial focus of these grants has been on businesses that have been most severely impacted by COVID-19 — those that were completely shut down in the spring and those that are in COVID-impacted areas that experienced property damage amidst the looting and civil unrest in June. Overall, the BIG program will support thousands of small businesses who have suffered losses due to the COVID pandemic, with a substantial allotment set aside specifically for childcare providers – an essential underpinning of our workforce for countless working families.”

“Under Governor Pritzker’s leadership, BIG is our latest tool in helping businesses with the support they need to maintain operations, support their staff and focus their efforts on a safe reopening in the wake of the crisis,” said Acting Director of DCEO, Michael Negron. “While the first round of BIG will provide a much-needed boost for thousands of businesses around the state, we know there is much more we must do. Through a number of programs launched in recent weeks, and with another round of BIG on the horizon, we will continue to respond to the needs facing our business community and work to provide assistance where it’s needed most.”

First round grants range from $10,000-$20,000 and may be used to help businesses with working capital expenses, including: payroll costs; rent; utilities; and equipment as well as other unexpected costs to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, such as PPE, training, and new technology. Business categories identified in the first round include small businesses in industries that continue to experience economic hardship due to public concerns for health and safety and in areas that sustained setbacks due to property damage and closures as a result of recent civil unrest.

BIG round 1 grants span a diverse geography, as well as business type – with more than 50 percent of grant recipients reporting they are minority-owned. This breakdown includes 14 percent Black business owners, 25 percent Asian-owned, and 11 percent Latinx-owned. Additionally, more than 600 grants totaling $10 million for downstate businesses.  To ensure small businesses were given a priority, grantees were required to prove annual revenues of $3 million or lower.

More than $24 million in this first round of funding will be devoted to DIAs. The General Assembly created the Disproportionately Impacted Area (DIA) designation to represent areas that have been significantly impacted by COVID-19 as well as other adverse economic conditions.  Under statute, at least 30 percent of BIG funds will be distributed to DIAs. Additionally, a substantial portion of total BIG funds are reserved for locations outside of Chicago and the collar counties.

More than 5,000 businesses applied for funding, with grantees selected via random lottery. To ensure reviews were conducted with an objective, equitable lens and to maximize the turnaround time on application reviews, DCEO partnered with several community-based grant administration partners, including Accion, Chicago Urban League, Women’s Business Development Center, The Chicago Community Loan Fund, Somercor and Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives.

To give entrepreneurs of color who historically lack access to the same level of funding and opportunities as other business owners, DCEO is offering technical assistance to support businesses in future rounds of BIG.  DCEO will invest $1 million to expand outreach capacity by working with four community navigator partners – community-based organizations that will build a “hub and spoke” model to engage, train and invest in expanding capacity of smaller organizations to reach more business owners eligible for BIG assistance.

“We are pleased to work with Governor Pritzker and his team to distribute grants to Chicago businesses that are in dire need,” said Karen Freeman Wilson, CEO of the Chicago Urban League. “From our talks with business owners, we understand that these grants are often the difference between continuing to offer goods and services and closure.  We also understand the importance of business coaching and mentorship, and we use this partnership as an opportunity to continue that work with small businesses.”

These partners have a demonstrated capacity to conduct outreach and technical assistance to ensure more participation in future rounds, particularly among minority-owned businesses, who have been underrepresented in other government relief efforts so far. Outreach will begin this month with the support of the following community navigators:

  • Illinois Business Immigration Coalition
  • The Resurrection Project
  • Chicago Urban League
  • Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation

“IBIC is proud to partner with Governor JB Pritzker and DCEO to provide capacity building for our community-based nonprofits to provide technical assistance through a community navigator model to assist minority owned businesses,” said Rebecca Shi, Executive Director, IBIC. “Black and Brown businesses, independent contractors have been shut out of federal relief programs while continuing to bear the brunt of COVID-19. A robust, state-wide technical assistance program levels the playing field and ensures that entrepreneurs of color not only survive but thrive through this global pandemic.”

“The BIG program is essential for small businesses that continue to suffer due to lack of resources throughout the pandemic and recent civil unrest,” said Raul Raymundo, CEO and Co-founder of The Resurrection Project. “The small and minority-owned businesses, the backbone of our communities, have been left behind in federal relief funding. The BIG program invests in expanding outreach capacity and engaging with businesses that were hardest hit by COVID-19.”

To further promote the grant opportunity to businesses around the state, DCEO leveraged its statewide network of Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) as well as other community partners to conduct outreach to business owners eligible for BIG assistance. In recent weeks, DCEO has conducted a series of webinars, briefings and 1:1 business outreach to provide information to more than 5,000 business owners and business groups representing owners in various industry sectors.

The initial round of BIG grants will be followed by subsequent rounds, each offering consideration to business sectors facing the most extreme economic hardship as a result of COVID-19-related closures or diminished operating capacity. Separately, the portion the BIG program set aside for childcare providers is administered by the Illinois Department of Human Services. Childcare providers may apply for these funds until August 14th at this link.

“I feel like my restaurant symbolizes progress for black people in business showing that we can be just as successful as anyone else,” said Vanetta Roy owner of Surf’s Up South Shore and Old Town in Chicago. “With this grant, I will hire more people and expand food service training for my employees. I’m thankful for the continued support of the South Shore Chamber for getting the necessary information out here, and to the State for providing this grant. I will be using it to make South Shore the very best it can be!”

“Having closed for most of May, this grant will allow us to regain a positive cash flow, hire additional help and provide us with the security we needed to renew our commercial lease,” said Ana Rodriguez, co-owner of The Jibarito Stop in Chicago. “I am eternally grateful for this assistance from the state of Illinois.”

“The financial boost this grant provides goes beyond supporting just the owners of this business, as it trickles down throughout the community to employees and their families, vendors, and customers,” said Katie Karcher, owner of Seasoning Bistro in Benton. “In this time of need, we are so grateful to be given the opportunity that the BIG grant affords us as it will ensure our business is able to continue, and that we can sustain employment for our hard-working employees.”

“While many businesses in the country have been impacted by COVID-19, few sectors have been as affected or face as long of a road to recovery than the travel agency industry,” said Giselle Sanchez, owner of Mena Tours and Travel Inc in Chicago. “Since our inception in 1965, our business has never experienced such an extended halt. As we continue to navigate through this difficult time, the opportunity to receive a Business Interruption Grant from the state will not only provide our business with a much needed lifeline to cover ongoing overhead expenses but will subsequently position us to see this through and be ready to service our longtime (eager to travel) clients once it is safe to travel again.”

“After losing staff and having to absorb unforeseen costs with our savings, this BIG grant will allow us to hire staff back,” said Brittany Dickens, owner of Fierce Manes Salon in Lansing. “At Fierce Manes, we know our stylists and staff depend on pay day to survive, and this funding can help me do that. Next week will be our 5 year anniversary and given that we can now provide more certainty for our staff, we can hopefully return to our original plan of expanding.”

“I’ve been in this business for 16 years and my goal has always been to help up and coming stylists be successful in their own careers,” said Stephanie Cowan, owner of Heavenly Enhanced Salon in Gurnee. “With fewer clients coming in the doors, COVID-19 has definitely placed an impact on our stylists who depend on their job to provide for their families. Our BIG grant will allow Heavenly Enhanced Salon to support our stylists in staying on the staff and continue serving ​their customers.”

“At Oasis Wellness, we seek to provide a refuge for women of all ages, backgrounds and stages,” said Elizabeth Cook, Owner of Oasis Wellness in Murphysboro. “Like many businesses, COVID-19 has been hard for us, particularly on our staff. I am thrilled to receive a BIG grant to ensure that regardless of what happens in the weeks ahead, we will have ability to help cover our employees, and provide spa services as long as it is safe to do so.”

“My restaurant was forced to close due to the Covid-19 mandate for over four months,” said Agron Ademi, owner of Harvest Restaurant in Pecatonica. “This Grant helped me get my business up and running again, it helped pay my restaurant utilities, order food, start advertising, and most importantly it helped with my payroll to keep and maintain my current staff.”

“I’m glad to see this new round of assistance to small businesses hit by COVID, especially those in disproportionately impacted areas,” said Majority Leader Greg Harris. “This new broader effort adds to our first rounds of business assistance, plus assistance to hospitals, healthcare centers and other small businesses that we are helping through these difficult times.”

“These grants will go a long way to help businesses struggling from the COVID-19 outbreak,” said State Senator Celina Villanueva (D-Chicago). “They’re especially important for the many business owners who couldn’t qualify for federal aid in communities like the one I represent.”

“I am excited to see a specific focus on communities that have been decimated by unrest and disinvestment,” said State Representative Curtis Tarver (D-Chicago). “Access to capital is critical to any business and I hope this provides a lifeline to small businesses and the communities that support them.”

“Our small businesses are continuing to fight hard to adapt and survive during the continuing pandemic,” said State Representative Dan Brady (R-Normal). “These grants are an investment in their future, and the future of our local communities.”

“Small businesses are the lifeblood of my community and of our state,” said State Representative Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago). “They need this grant money to survive, and I’m proud of our state for doing everything we can to keep these businesses afloat during times of unprecedented hardship.”

“COVID-19 arrived quickly in our community, and small businesses have been severely impacted by this pandemic,” said State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign). “As we work to address this public health crisis, it’s critical that we continue to give local businesses the resources they need to survive this crisis. State resources like the BIG program can help these businesses as we continue to navigate this pandemic.”

“I am so happy that businesses in my district received $3 million in Business Interruption Grants,” said State Senator Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago). “First businesses in my community were devastated by COVID-19, then civil unrest and looting. My heart goes out to them for all the hardships they’ve faced these past several months. People put their whole lives into their businesses, and deserve to see their hard work pay off. They are more than deserving of these grants, and I hope it offers them a chance to get back on their feet.”

“I fought for and helped craft this effort to ensure that areas that have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic are able to receive support to keep their small businesses open,” said Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford. “Almost $900,000 is going directly to businesses in my district, and I am thankful that those owners are finally seeing some relief.”

“It was one of my priorities during session to ensure we were able to provide support to those businesses that have been struggling throughout this pandemic,” said Assistant Majority Leader Tony Munoz (D-Chicago). “My district is home to so many businesses owned by people of all backgrounds, and it’s important to preserve the cultural and economic contributions they make to Chicago and Illinois.”

“These grants will help Illinois Quad Cities businesses through the difficult time COVID-19 has brought,” said State Representative Michael Halpin (D-Rock Island). “I am proud that the General Assembly acted swiftly to pass BIG legislation, and look forward to additional rounds of this important program.”

“The Business Interruption Grant program is an example of what is possible when legislators do their job and create tangible solutions to the problems facing our state,” said State Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill). “Government is supposed to work for those we represent first and foremost, and I’m proud that we are doing everything possible at the state level to help our small business community stay afloat.”

“Many of our community’s most important local businesses have been struggling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the folks who run these places or work there are living in a constant state of worry that they’ll wake up tomorrow without a job because the doors had to close for good,” said State Representative Robert Peters (D-Chicago). “The grants from DCEO – which will award nearly $1.8 million dollars to area businesses with almost half of that slated toward Black-owned businesses – will provide much needed relief to the businesses and their employees and will prevent the permanent closure of many fixtures of our community.”

“The BIG program means so much for the small businesses in my district, many of which began experiencing the financial impact of the pandemic even before the Stay at Home order went into effect,” said State Representative Theresa Mah (D-Chicago).

Since March, DCEO has launched over $300 million in programs to assist businesses experiencing losses as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency—including the Business Interruption Grants (BIG) program, the Downstate Stabilization Grant Fund, the Hospitality Emergency Grant Program, and the Fast Track capital program. While more than 1,000 grants have been released as a result of these programs, through BIG, an estimated thousands more small businesses will benefit from critical relief dollars. Additionally, to aid businesses experiencing damage from looting and civil unrest, DCEO will soon launch the application for Rebuild Distressed Communities – providing $25 million to help with capital repairs.

This article originally appeared in WJOL.

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