SPRINGFIELD – Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration on Thursday, Sept. 30 announced the awarding of the first $24 million in “Back to Business” grants, a program funded with federal relief aid to help businesses recover and reopen from the pandemic.
The announcement took place at a Mexican restaurant in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago, Mi Tierra en la Villita, which was awarded a $150,000 grant.
“This is a tremendous blessing. Like many businesses in our community, we have faced hard times during the pandemic,” said Priscilla Fuentes, whose father owns the restaurant. “My dad, Ezequiel Fuentes, had cut into his personal savings when the pandemic first hit. At times, we barely broke even. But we always felt committed to delivering the food and service our community counts on.”
The Back to Business, or B2B grant program, administered through the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, will provide a total of $250 million in aid to small businesses that have experienced losses during the pandemic. The funds come from the federal American Rescue Plan Act and can be used for such things as rehiring staff and paying other operating expenses.
Grant amounts can range from $5,000 to $150,000, depending on the amount of losses a business experienced. Preference is given to businesses with $5 million or less in annual revenue as well as those that did not receive funding under the previous Business Interruption Grant, or BIG program.
“After the success of last year’s Business Interruption Grants, which provided $290 million in relief to over 9,000 small businesses across our state, it was clear that these investments have had a big impact,” Pritzker said.
Applications for the remaining funds will remain open through Oct. 13. More information about the program and a link to an online application form can be found on the DCEO website.
Of the grants announced Sept. 30, 81 percent went to businesses that applied to the BIG program but did not receive funding; 71 percent went to businesses in disproportionately impacted areas or low-income zip codes that experienced high rates of COVID-19; 66 percent went to hard-hit industries such as restaurants and taverns, hotels, arts organizations and salons; and just over half went to minority-owned businesses.
To encourage more businesses to apply, Sylvia Garcia, acting director of DCEO, said the agency has recruited a network of “navigators” to help steer businesses through the application process.
“We have teamed up with community groups like Little Village Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and over 100 other community partners to make sure that we’re going door-to-door providing one-on-one technical assistance and really getting the support to anyone who needs it to apply for this program,” she said.
She said the community navigators are “instrumental to our equity efforts and connecting with the people who need it most – people of color, rural communities and others that are hard to reach – and making sure this relief goes to those that were hardest hit and those that need the help the most.”