It’s not exactly a Thanksgiving miracle — it’s more like, “It’s about time.” But we’re sure that many small-business owners and workers in nonprofits will be properly thankful that much-needed assistance to help get through the financial challenges of COVID is now much closer than it was before.
Three million dollars worth of assistance. Though that amount won’t all go to one place, of course. The maximum grant for any recipient is $25,000 and it will be spread to many of our city’s worthwhile organizations, judiciously, we expect.
The money is earmarked specifically for small businesses and nonprofits, with lower-income sections of the city first in line. It’s the first money to come from $51.7 million in grants from the American Rescue Plan. The Winston-Salem City Council authorized the spending last week, the Journal’s Wesley Young reported Monday.
It still won’t happen overnight — applications will be taken in late December or early January, with grants being distributed to qualifying groups starting in February.
So hang in there, friends. Help is on the way.
The money is specifically intended to help mitigate the economic downturn that resulted from COVID, which is still active in our community and others. We’re still saddened that many local businesses didn’t make it this far. Our city is diminished without their presence, services and goods.
Of the $3 million, $1 million will go to small businesses, the Journal reported. A further $1 million will go to social service nonprofits and another $1 million to nonprofits in tourism, travel, hospitality and the arts. The first recipients will be businesses and nonprofits that are in lower-income areas and that are behind on their rent, mortgage or utility payments.
“First-round grants will go to businesses in what are called Qualified Census Tracts and nonprofits in or serving those tracts,” the Journal reported. “Qualified Census Tracts are areas of low income designated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.”
To apply for a grant, a business must be individually owned — no chains. It must have 25 or fewer full-time employees. It must be in the city limits and have been in business on or before Jan. 1, 2020. It must be behind on mortgage, rent or utility payments at the time of the application.
Qualifying nonprofits must have an operational budget under $1 million, not counting any money passed through from other groups. They must have a governing board and provide documentation that they serve low- to moderate-income areas.
After those applicants are served, other businesses and nonprofits can apply for a second round of grants. Once all eligible applications are satisfied, the remaining money can be spent on other eligible uses.
Considering applications from organizations in debt didn’t seem fair to everyone at first. “The problem is that the first criteria is to be behind on mortgage, rent or utilities,” Annette Scippio, council member from the East Ward said. “I’ve had a couple people call me, and they are not behind.” Scippio suggested allowing grant recipients to use the money for payments going forward.
We appreciate that a lot of good money managers have avoided going into debt and still deserve some assistance. But debt hanging over a business owner’s head can be increasingly debilitating and affect the ability to pay future bills. It seems right to help them dig their way out of a hole first.
The federal relief grants also include $1.35 million for crime prevention and $1.5 million for city employees whose jobs give them a lot of potential exposure to COVID. That’s just.
The city is also using $100,000 in federal relief money in a program to help people facing eviction because of COVID. We hope it’s not too late.
A walk or drive downtown reveals too many closed storefronts — too many victims of the scourge that has attacked individuals as well as commerce. And fewer venues mean fewer reasons to go downtown — a feedback loop that can be devastating.
Put that together with projects that have been delayed — like Merschel Park — and the situation can seem dire.