A number of counties have been announcing various programs using federal CARES Act funding to help soften the blow from the COVID-19 pandemic. One of Westchester County’s programs is to help small businesses and nonprofits that have been negatively impacted by coronavirus.
Westchester County Executive George Latimer says the new grant program is called “Business FIRST: Financial Investments for Recovery and a Sustainable Tomorrow.”
“There’s an allocation of $10 million in grants, up to $49,000 to eligible businesses and not-for profits,” says Latimer.
Bridget Gibbons is Westchester County’s Director of Economic Development.
“Businesses and nonprofits that employ 99 or fewer people and whose primary business location is in Westchester County are eligible,” says Gibbons. “They also must be in good standing with Westchester County and demonstrate a revenue loss of at least 25 percent since March 7 of 2020. So really targeting people that were kind of doing well and then, when the crisis hit, that really hit their bottom line.”
She says businesses that received federal Paycheck Protection Program or emergency disaster loan program funding should not use this grant program for the same purpose.
“Some examples of how the funds can be used, as I mentioned, retaining or rehiring employees, paying employee benefits, paying rent, mortgage, addressing temporary COVID-related restrictions on business activities. So for example, our restaurants they can only function at 50 percent occupancy. A restaurant could use the money to purchase heaters so they can continue to serve outside as the weather gets colder,” Gibbon says. “And increasing technology, now that we have more people working from home, if a business needs to upgrade their technology to accommodate that, that would be acceptable. Marketing plan, business plans, buying safety equipment.”
Business Council of Westchester President and CEO Dr. Marsha Gordon:
“This is certainly a ray of hope for those organizations struggling to stay alive and to keep people employed and to keep jobs in Westchester,” says Gordon.
Gibbons says Westchester is home to about 39,000 small businesses. If all businesses request the full amount of $49,000, about 200 will receive the funds. Gordon says small businesses related to hospitality are in dire need of assistance, yet so are other sectors and nonprofits.
“These are really the engines of our economy, employing so, so many in our county,” Gordon says. “These sectors have been especially hard hit and desperately need any financial resources to survive, and these are considerable financial resources.”
Gibbons says there will be a scoring system to evaluate the applications, and a selection committee in charge.
“We have established a whole set of scoring criteria, and it’s pretty comprehensive, everything from how many locations and is Westchester your primary location for your business? How many employees do you have? What are your plans for using this money? How much business have you lost since the March 7 declaration?” Gibbons says. “So it’s a very well thought out set of criteria that we will be basically scoring each application on.”
Democratic County Executive Latimer:
“Anybody who does not make it into the cut that’s eligible — there’ll be people who don’t get it because they’re not eligible, they’re, they’re the local franchise of a national chain and they wouldn’t be eligible —but if they are eligible but they didn’t make the cut this time around, those names are going to be retained,” Latimer says. “And if there is, conceptually, a second round of funding, then there’d be an opportunity for them to come back and take a look at that point.”
Gibbons says this FIRST grant program offers a greater degree of flexibility in how the funds may be used than did prior programs. She offers other potential uses for the funding.
“For example, if a business decides that they want to upgrade their HVAC system and have the MERV 13 filters, this money could be used for that,” Gibbons says. “And I think restaurants are probably looking closely at that because that will, having an upgraded HVAC system with the air purifier at the MERV 13 level will give customers the confidence that when they eat inside the restaurant, they’re safe from the virus.”
Certain entities are not eligible to apply for the grant, including government; real estate holding companies, adult entertainment establishments and gas stations. Applications will be accepted from September 21 through September 30.