In April of 2022, Chatham County announced the official launch of their Small Business Grant Program funded through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) – Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. The U.S. Department of Treasury allocated $362 Billion dollars for the American Rescue Act Plan, and through this, the Chatham County Board of Commissioners accepted $28.1 million. The Small Business Grant program houses $1.5 million of these funds and will provide one-time grants of up to $25,000 to businesses affected by COVID-19 and located in unincorporated Chatham County. The grant program will run until all of the funds have been used or until December 31, 2024.
We spoke with Tara Jennings, who is the Strategic Planning Administrator at Chatham County, regarding the status of the program and what businesses could expect when they apply. Jennings shared that as of the commission meeting in mid-May, the county had received 201 registrations for the grant application and 65 completed applications. Of these 65 applications, 18 companies have been awarded funds for a total of roughly $448,000 granted to area small businesses. In terms of the registration number vs. applications submitted, Jennings elaborated that many started the registration process and realized their company wasn’t eligible for the grant or that they were missing required documentation. Much of our discussion with Jennings focused on the types of companies that are eligible and the criteria for grant acceptance.
“Really in a unique way, applications have not fit in one clean sector of businesses. We’ve seen applications from nail salons to lawn care services to retail businesses and restaurants. We’ve seen a lot of diversity in applications,” said Jennings.
The program offers two types of grants for which companies can apply: the Reimbursement Relief Grant and the Future Mitigation Plans Relief Grant.
The Reimbursement Relief Grant offers reimbursements for costs including payroll and benefit-cost, mortgage or rent, utilities, operating costs, physical changes (social distancing, barriers, partitions), COVID-19 testing, vaccinations, and personal protective equipment.
“We received a request for wax reimbursement not only from a salon but also from a medical supply company. With the shortage in supply, the cost of wax has increased. In their cases, this was considered reimbursement because the increase in price created unbudgeted expenses,” Jennings elaborated. “Obviously the cost of fuel has gone up so another thing we are seeing is applications seeking fuel reimbursement. One of the local restaurants asked for funds to expand to food truck services because customers weren’t coming into their restaurant.”
As the title implies, the Future Mitigation Plans Relief Grant focuses on helping companies that struggled to make the necessary pandemic accommodations and want to be prepared moving forward. For example, a business could apply for this grant because they did not have enough space for their customers to spread out and social distance.
“Maybe a restaurant was in a suite with booths back to back and tables in close proximity. Then when covid hit and the CDC guidelines of social distancing came out, people needed to spread out more, and those restaurants needed to expand to the suite next door or maybe even consider another location that was bigger. The idea behind the Future Mititagtion Plans Relief Grant is to support these businesses to now make those expansions.” said Jennings.
Jennings also explained that the Future Mitigation Plans Relief Grant can assist companies in need of new technology, which we all relied on heavily during the height of the pandemic.
“Some of our smaller businesses did not have the capacity to expand in their technology space, and so the mitigation funds also support them…for example, if they needed to create an app for something they had not needed until the pandemic or if they needed to set up online delivery,” Jennings shared.
Both grants require companies to…
- Be currently in operation and located in unincorporated Chatham County
- Be current on state, federal and property taxes
- Not be suspended or debarred from the use of federal funds
- Not be a chain or a franchise, unless franchise is not a subsidiary of a larger corporation, and the majority of locations are within Chatham County
- Intend to stay in business for the following 12 months
- Show proof of negative COVID-19 impacts.
- Have fewer than 100 employees
Jennings says that even businesses that launched just before the pandemic are being considered for funding. “We will entertain applications from anyone that was in business prior to the pandemic occurring. What we are asking for is tax returns for three years prior. However, if a company was not in business three years prior and does not have those tax returns, then this is not a requirement.”
Those interested in applying should set up an account through the online portal provided by Chatham County. Businesses must answer a series of questions and upload the required documents for consideration. A team of case workers then reviews the application and quantifies the negative impact of covid on the business. They also check to make sure the business has not qualified for and received other funding for the same issues noted in the application. Chatham County staff then reviews the application for accuracy to make sure the company meets all of the criteria and requirements. The last step is that the business and the county move into an agreement that identifies what the business is going to use the money for, how they are going to report on that money to the county, and how the business has permission to expend it.
In terms of the reimbursement grant, Jennings says the entire approval and agreement process can take anywhere from four to eight weeks before the full payment goes through. As for the mitigation grant, the County provides a portion of the mitigation funds upfront and grants the remainder after the business has shown in good faith that they have begun their project and acquired some of the expenses for which they applied. The remainder of the payment is made once the project is completed.
To learn more and apply, visit Chatham County’s website here.