Businesses still hard hit by the pandemic-induced shutdown have more lifelines coming.
Two new government grant programs, Rebuild VA and Culpeper Recovers, are set to launch in the near future. Town Council discussed the latter at a recent special meeting and public hearing, while Gov. Ralph Northam announced the former earlier this week.
Culpeper Recovers and local housing
The town is applying for $850,000 for Culpeper Recovers through the federal Community Development Block Grant Program, according to a presentation from Culpeper Tourism & Economic Development Director Paige Read.
One of the longest continuously running programs of HUD, block grants typically focus on housing programs—the elimination of slums and blight, Read said. In fact, the town used a series of block grant funding in the 90s and early 2000s to restore blighted areas in downtown Culpeper.
But these are unusual times.
HUD is now offering block grants to localities under the “urgent needs” category related to continued loss of business due to COVID-19, Read said. Other urgent need examples are an earthquake or for contamination remediation, she said.
The program puts particular focus on small, women and minority-owned businesses, and would make $15,000 grants for basic business expenses such as rent or other expenses related to COVID-19.
“This is a little bit more unorthodox in that it will be for a small business grant to weather the storm of the pandemic,” Read told town council.
No one submitted any public comments about the town applying for the block grant at the meeting earlier this month in the economic development center.
Town Councilman Jon Russell asked if the HUD funds could be used to help with housing.
“Because we do have a housing issue, a lot of people out of their apartments, houses, the homeless village behind Walmart,” he said. “We have a serious issue.”
Read said the grant did not cover homeless relief, but that staff could explore other funding options for the issue.
Town Manager Chris Hively noted the Culpeper Human Services Crisis Housing Committee would soon resume its meetings focused on finding local solutions. The next meeting will be held August 24.
Like many other aspects of life, COVID-19 cancelled the crisis housing committee’s meetings in recent months. At their last meeting in the spring, discussion ensued about building tiny houses for local homeless, or working class units in a mobile home park, as well as a shelter in town open all year round.
For now, the focus is small business. Read called the Block Grant opportunity “unprecedented.” If awarded, the town will pay the rent for up to six months for qualifying businesses on their behalf through Community Investment Collaborative, a third-party micro lender and community nonprofit based in Charlottesville, she said.
“It’s very competitive,” Read said of the grant program and it’s first-come, first-served. “We want to be in line to bring this to Culpeper.”
CCI is currently already administering the $3.3 million also federally funded Culpeper CARES program for small businesses and nonprofits in the town and county. It is distributing $10,000, $15,000 and $20,000 grants to entities with deep losses due to the pandemic.
Town Councilman Frank Reaves Jr. said anything the town can do to help its citizens and businesses is really appreciated at this time.
Rebuild VA in response to COVID-19
As for Rebuild VA, it will give away $70 million to small businesses and nonprofits whose normal operations were disrupted by the current public health crisis including most notably, health clubs, theaters, restaurants, public amusement and overnight summer camps.
Grants of up to $10,000 will be awarded to approximately 7,000 applicants around the state to cover eligible expenses for entities with gross revenues of no more than $1.5 million, and have no more than 25 employees, according to Northam. Rebuild VA will be for those who did not receive funds through the earlier federal Paycheck Protection Program.
“Small businesses and nonprofits are the backbone of the Virginia economy and the bedrock of our communities, and they have been devastated by this ongoing health crisis,” said Northam this week. “Rebuild VA will help address the vast challenges that small businesses and nonprofits across our Commonwealth are facing as they work to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The state’s COVID-19 economic recovery is going to be a marathon, not a sprint, said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball: “It is our goal that Rebuild VA will help ease the burden on small businesses, which are the livelihood of many Virginia families.”
In an effort to accomplish Northam administration objectives for diversity, equity, and inclusion, according to the governor’s office, half of program funds will be distributed to small businesses and nonprofits operating in low-income and economically disadvantaged communities with adequate representation of minority- and women-owned businesses.
“At a time such as this, providing funding to the most vulnerable businesses—the unbanked and underserved is our primary objective,” said Tracey G. Wiley, director of the Virginia Dept. of Small Business & Supplier Diversity Director.
Rebuild VA funding can be used for payroll, paid sick leave, medical or family leave, healthcare for employees, mortgage, rent, utilities, loan payments and PPE.
SBSD will hold several webinars to review eligibility requirements and documentation needed for when the application opens on August 10. For information on Rebuild VA, see governor.virginia.gov/RebuildVA.