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Illinois awards emergency grants to small businesses

CHICAGO (WGEM) – Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) announced Wednesday $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 governor's office stated 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.

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 the 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 Gov. 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.”  

Officials from the governor's office stated the 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.  

Officials stated 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.  

The governor's office stated 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.” 

The governor's office stated 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

The governor's office stated 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.  

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Jim Roberts

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