Madison County will distribute $1.7 million to small businesses that were hit especially hard by stay-at-home orders earlier this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We were really targeting the food service establishments, short-term lodging establishments and maybe some other nonessential businesses,” said James Arnold, economic development coordinator at Madison County Community Development, which is distributing the money.
The main goal of the funding is to help small businesses cover existing or new costs that were caused by the pandemic, he said.
“We want to keep doors open. We don’t want businesses to close down,” Arnold said. “Everybody knows when a business closes down you have an owner that gets hurt, you also have workers that get hurt.”
Businesses qualify for grants of $5,000, $10,000 or $15,000 depending on how many full time employees they have. The funding is limited to businesses that employ fewer than 25 employees. The deadline to apply is Aug. 24.
The funding comes to the county from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and is intended to help businesses that support people who make up to 80% of the area median income.
He added the county initially allocated about $500,000 for business relief.
“I try to encourage people to think about this as an actual grant,” Arnold said. “We’re calling it a forgivable loan at 0% interest. But if you stay open for one year post-grant award, it’s a grant, you never have to repay anything.”
Public service nonprofits can also apply for grants up to $20,000 to cover costs associated with providing new services because of the coronavirus, said Lisa Mersinger, community development coordinator at Madison County Community Development.
“As long as someone can tell us through their application of the increased need and what they’re doing because of it and show us that these dollars will serve the people who are low income in Madison County,” she said.
One common cost could be providing personal protective equipment, Mersinger said.
“They’ve had to come up with the funds for that, maybe we can ease the burden on those unexpected costs,” she said
Madison County’s funding program mirrors what St. Clair County did in July, when the county distributed $615,000 to small businesses, said Rick Stubblefield, executive director of St. Clair County's Intergovernmental Grants Department.
“What we did was never designed for big-box stores, or chain restaurants,” he said. “These are mostly family-owned, mom and pop-type businesses that really got hit hard. We wanted to be able to help who got hit hard.”
Stubblefield explained their money went to restaurants, microbreweries, barbershops and other nonessential businesses that were shut down earlier this year.
“The design here is to get businesses over the hump and to keep them going. We’re looking at a year out,” he said.
Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program: Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid