Despite the fact that 90% of all U.S. natural disasters declared by the President involve some sort of flooding, few can argue that the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been truly disastrous for the nation. With around 225,000 deaths and millions out of work as a result of the novel coronavirus, it’s clear that everything from our healthcare system to the economy as a whole has taken a major hit.
And for those 25 million Americans who had started or were running their own businesses in 2016, it’s likely that 2020 has brought some of the greatest hardships yet. And while PPP loans offered by the Small Business Administration offered some promise initially, many business owners found they either weren’t eligible or weren’t approved for funding.
Considering that 22.5% of small businesses fail within their first year, starting a new enterprise is already a challenge. But during a major health crisis that shuts down or limits operations so severely, it’s clear that business owners can’t be expected to handle the problem on their own. So what else are the state and local municipalities doing to shoulder the burden and keep small businesses open?
On the state level, there’s the New York Forward Loan Fund. This partnership between the state and a group of lenders and funders has earmarked $100 million for small businesses that might have slipped through the gaps other programs didn’t address. Almost three-quarters of businesses that have been funded by the program are women- or POC-owned, with more than 85% having five or fewer employees. While only 228 loans had been sent out by early October 2020 (meaning that only $10 million of the fund has been distributed), it’s still a better option for many businesses that are currently in need. The program has also been opened up to businesses that received less than $50,000 from federal PPP loans. And since the PPP coronavirus relief program ended back in August with $134 billion in guarantees left unused, it’s clear New Yorkers require more help than national platforms want to give them.
While not as direct as a business loan, New York State’s CARES Act funds are reportedly being used to train workers for in-demand jobs. It’s been said that the $18 million in funding could help many small businesses across the state rebound from COVID-19 setbacks; the money will used towards skills training in the areas of advanced manufacturing, technology, and logistics. According to Governor Cuomo’s office, the Labor Department will zero in opportunities for business aid and education through collaborations with the Office of Workforce Development, Empire State Development, SUNY and CUNY colleges, and 10 Regional Economic Development Councils throughout the state. New York is just one of eight states to receive this kind of funding.
On an even more hyper-regional level, Rochester — which recently made headlines for the death of Daniel Prude, Black Lives Matter protests, and an alleged coverup — has pledged to help its small businesses, too. The Fast Forward Monroe Small Business Grant Program is set to distribute $15 million in CARES Act funding for local businesses — particularly those that are minority-owned, woman-owned, located in vulnerable neighborhoods, and that have yet to receive any pandemic aid. The available funding is scaled depending on the number of workers (ranging from $10,000 to $20,000) and does not need to be repaid. The funding can be used for rent, payroll, and other necessary expenses. In order to be eligible, businesses must be located within Monroe County and must provide a variety of banking information and documents detailing COVID costs since March. Applications are now being accepted until November 2. As of October 22, around 800 businesses had already applied for aid.
While it’s unclear as to what the state and local cities will continue to do as the pandemic rages on, it’s obvious that this next round of funding still might not be enough for many businesses to keep their doors open and their utilities on. But although the future seems a bit bleak for businesses nationwide, there may be a glimmer of hope — and if New York’s COVID cases continue to decline, we’ll be that much closer to fully reopening with fewer restrictions.