Illinois releases $46 million in small business grants

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CHICAGO, Ill. (WCIA) — Small business grants totaling $46 million have been released to more than 2,600 small businesses across the state, Gov. JB Pritzker said Wednesday.

The grants are the first round of the state’s Business Interruption Grants, which go toward “a diversity of businesses, as well as business communities hit hardest by COVID-19 related closures,” according to a press release from Pritzker’s office.

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity is also involved in the funding process, which has hit 400 cities and 78 counties in the state so far. A “substantial portion” of the grant funding has been allocated to childcare providers.

“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,” Pritzker said Wednesday. 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.”

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.   

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  

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

 “COVID-19 arrived quickly in our community, and small businesses have been severely impacted by this pandemic,” said State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) in a press release. “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.” 

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.  

Illinois businesses can follow DCEO on social media @IllinoisDCEO for regular updates on business resources and programs.  

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