The federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program officially ended on Saturday and — to give you a sense of how this is all going — progress on a new package of COVID-19 economic relief is stalled in the other Washington. In comparison to the trillions of dollars being debated in D.C., $2,500 isn’t much but a new relief fund from the GSBA for the Capitol Hill and Central District is hoped to bring some small measure of financial relief to a handful of shops, restaurants, and small businesses. And there is hope to grow the program to help more.
“Capitol Hill didn’t just have to deal with COVID and anything related to that but also the protests, the riots, teargas, CHOP — there were so many different layers that the business owners have to work through,” the GSBA’s Ilona Lohrey said.
GSBA, Washington’s LGBTQ and allied chamber of commerce, is launching this project using a $50,000 donation from Comcast. GSBA will divide the donation into 20 grants of $2,500, but Lohrey told CHS they hope to raise funds to double that number and provide 40 grants. The first round of grant-giving will focus on businesses in Capitol Hill and the Central District and, in particular, LGBTQ, BIPOC and women-owned businesses.
But there is not enough to go around.
Since the grant program began at the end of July, Lohrey says they have already received nearly 150 applications and “that alone already tells us we need more money.” GSBA and Comcast are offering “wrap-around” services in addition to the $2,500 cash, in the forms of business consulting and advertising.
“We understand $2,500 does not pay the entire amount of rent, for example, for a business that may be located on Capitol Hill because rents are pretty high,” she said, “but it may make enough impact to replace a piece of equipment that’s broken down or just keep the lights on.”
Earlier this summer, Bloomberg reported that 57% or nearly 750 small Pike/Pine businesses received PPP loans, which is “reasonably reflective” of the percent of small businesses getting loans across King County.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, GSBA has been assisting small business owners as they navigate applications for federal support like PPP loans or local funding like the spring Small Business Stabilization Fund — relief programs that have proved challenging even for GSBA member attorneys and accountants.
“The EIDL loans and the PPP loans came out but nobody understood them because the laws and the regulations kept changing,” Lohrey said. “It became clear that what small businesses needed immediately was cash, but not cash in the form of loans that they have to repay at some point, but cash grants.”
In addition to COVID-19, Capitol Hill-area businesses also reported added financial strain during the weeks of protest and heavy police crowd control tactics this summer. A survey by the GBSA’s Capitol Hill Business Alliance reported 34 out of 46 self-selected respondents said their business had suffered a loss of income due to the protests.
The deadline for businesses to submit a grant application or donate to the Ready for Business Fund is September 4, and Lohrey said GSBA is hoping to get more funding so the program can continue beyond this first round of grants.
“We want other hometown corporations like Microsoft, Amazon to step up,” Lohrey said. “They’ve been both doing really well during this crisis where the world is upside down with their tech services, where we say okay now it is your time to step up and support small businesses and here’s a great way to do it.”
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