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New grant program teed up to help Harrisburg small businesses survive crisis

A screen shot of Harrisburg City Council’s virtual work session on Tuesday

Impact Harrisburg will begin taking applications on Friday for a new “Business Stabilization Program,” a grant program meant to help city-licensed businesses weather the COVID-19 crisis.

At a virtual work session on Tuesday, Sheila Dow Ford, Impact Harrisburg’s executive director, told City Council that the program is meant to help small businesses and nonprofits pay their workers and their bills until economic activity resumes.

“The purpose is to help neighborhood businesses survive during the pandemic,” she said. “It is hoped that this assistance will help employers with emergency cash flow needs during this time and help retain and continue to pay employees where possible.”

The $1 million program will be jointly funded by Impact Harrisburg—a nonprofit set up as part of the city’s financial recovery program—and the city. The city’s $500,000 contribution will come from its “revolving loan fund,” a fund that once loaned money to private businesses in the city.

The new assistance program aims to provide eligible businesses and nonprofits that are under duress with “emergency” grants of up to $10,000. Businesses must have less than $1 million in annual revenue and demonstrate that they have lost at least 25 percent of their monthly revenue as a result of the crisis. Fifty percent of the fund will be directed to businesses with revenues of less than $500,000 a year, Dow Ford said.

“We are making a directed outreach to those businesses in the community that are the smallest of the small,” she said.

The grant can be used for various business expenses, including payroll, rent, utilities, vendor invoices and real estate taxes.

All city-licensed businesses, as well as nonprofits, are eligible, with a “strong preference” given to businesses owned by city residents and to businesses owned by women, minorities and other disadvantaged classes, Dow Ford said.

At the work session, council members seemed inclined to support funding the new grant program.

“I think an opportunity like this is needed in our community for small businesses,” said council member Ausha Green.

Council members asked several questions about ensuring accountability, and Dow Ford said that all awardees will have to legally affirm that they meet the eligibility requirements and will use the funds for the stated purposes.

The Impact Harrisburg board, not the city, will judge the applications, Dow Ford said. The board will make funding decisions around May 7, she said.

“Once we make these decisions, we will immediately begin to distribute the funds,” Dow Ford said. “We want to make this as fast and efficient and convenient as possible.”

City Council still needs to approve its contribution. The resolution doing so is expected to be on council’s agenda during its virtual legislative session next week.

For more information on the Business Stabilization Program, visit the Impact Harrisburg website.

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