The state announced a $250 million “Back to Business” grant program aimed at assisting small businesses in the recovery from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and associated economic shutdowns. The program is funded by the federal American Rescue Plan Act signed by President Joe Biden, and it includes specific set-aside amounts for certain uses. Those include $100 million for businesses in areas disproportionately impacted by the pandemic; $30 million for arts and entertainment businesses that haven’t received previous aid; $25 million for restaurants and taverns that didn’t receive money from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund; $25 million for hotels; and another $25 million for businesses that didn’t receive Business Interruption Grant funding. The Business Interruption Grant program was funded through previous rounds of federal aid, distributing $580 million to businesses and daycares. Gov. JB Pritzker said those grants helped more than 9,000 small businesses in 600 communities.
A statement from the governor’s office said the Back to Business, or B2B, program, is the “first in a series of economic recovery programs set to launch by the administration.” The program aims to allow companies to offset losses due to COVID-19 and bring back workers through grant funding that does not have to be repaid. Pritzker also noted the state-approved another $9 million investment in the Community Navigator program, helping to connect “underserved businesses” with the resources available. “This localized personalized assistance will make this program more accessible for entrepreneurs who are eligible, yet may not know just where to get started or how to get started, whether it’s due to language or to staffing or any number of other reasons that shouldn’t be a barrier to receiving this kind of support,” Pritzker said.
The B2B funding will be administered through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, which has a map of disproportionately impacted areas and a list of other requirements on its website, Illinois.gov/dceo. The application period opens on Aug 18. The grants are available to businesses with revenues of $20 million or less in 2019 that saw a reduction in revenue in 2020 due to COVID-19. Hotels with $35 million or less in revenue are eligible. Grants ranging from $5,000 to $150,000 will be distributed on a rolling basis, based on the losses sustained, by DCEO through its grant administrator, Allies for Community Business. Sylvia Garcia, acting director at DCEO, said at a news conference the state was announcing the program a week early to “make sure everyone has time to ask questions and get their application materials in order.”
“It’s really important that this accessibility of the program and making sure businesses that have been most vulnerable have the time and space to gather the information that they need,” she said. The Community Navigator program has 13 hubs across the state and more than 100 community partners, Garcia said. “These folks are really going to be the boots on the ground working directly in communities and making sure that they’re reducing barriers for folks, whether it’s a language barrier, assistance with banks and tax documents, or other technical assistance that’s needed as they prepare and submit their grant application for the Back to Business Program and hopefully other programs as they roll out,” she said. Along with the Community Navigator program, DCEO said it will reach out to “anyone and everyone” to raise awareness for the grants, including “chambers of commerce, economic development organizations, legislators and many other partners from around the state.”