$636 million grants to help small firms hit by COVID-19

By Peter Hancock Capitol News Illinois

This map shows the Illinois ZIP codes that are designated as “Disproportionately Impacted Areas” for the Business Interruption Grant Program. (Courtesy of Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity)

SPRINGFIELD – Financial aid is about to start flowing for Illinois businesses that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity published emergency rules this week to implement the Business Interruption Grant program, or BIG.

Those rules took effect July 21 when they were submitted to the secretary of state’s office.

State lawmakers authorized the program in the budget they approved during their special session in May. It will make $636 million in federal CARES Act money available to small businesses that have been forced to close or that have seen a substantial loss of customer activity due to COVID-19.

“The Business Interruption Grant program, otherwise known as BIG, is a key component of Governor Pritzker’s comprehensive response to COVID-19 and the economic distress it’s caused for Illinois businesses and communities,” DCEO spokeswoman Lauren Huffman said in an email. “This historic $636 million program will provide immediate relief for small businesses which have experienced significant revenue losses as a result of the ongoing pandemic and focuses on businesses and communities hit hardest by the crisis.”

The bill also provides that at least 30 percent of the money must go to businesses located in “disproportionately impacted areas,” or DIAs, which are ZIP codes where there are high concentrations of low-income households and high rates of COVID-19.

Huffman also said that at least $159 million in grants will go to entities located outside Chicago and the surrounding collar counties.

Although the application window for the first round of grants totaling $60 million has already closed, the new rules enable the agency to begin processing those applications and awarding grants.

During the first round, priority is being given to small businesses located in DIAs. Specifically, $20 million will be distributed to small businesses located in DIAs where there was property damage during recent civil unrest.

Another $20 million is set aside for bars and restaurants; $10 million for barbershops and salons; and $10 million for gyms and fitness centers.

Those businesses must have met certain income requirements during 2019. They also must have been in business for at least three months prior to March 2020 and have incurred at least $10,000 in qualifying expenditures since March 21.

The BIG program also sets aside $270 million for licensed day care centers. An initial round of those grants is to be awarded by Sept. 30.

Those grants are being administered by the Department of Human Services and will be awarded to facilities that receive at least 25 percent of their revenue through the Child Care Assistance Program and whose operating capacity has been reduced due to group size restrictions imposed by the Department of Children and Family Services to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

If funds allow, another round of grants will be awarded for the period Oct. 1 through Nov. 30, according to DCEO.

Grant awards may be used to cover operational costs such as staff wages and benefits, occupancy costs, materials, supplies and professional services that are eligible for federal Coronavirus Relief Fund reimbursements and are not otherwise covered by another grant or loan program such as the Payroll Protection Program or other disaster relief programs.

More information on how to apply for the grants is available on the DCEO website.