Illinois launches business grant program

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(The Center Square) – Illinois is rolling out another business grant program.

The $250 million “Back to Business” (B2B) grant program is designed to help small businesses offset losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic and bring back workers. The money comes from the taxpayer-funded American Rescue Plan Act approved by Congress.

The grants will range form $5,000 to $150,000 with priority given to restaurants and bars, hotels, arts businesses and more. Additionally, businesses located within Disproportionately Impacted Areas as defined in statute will be prioritized.

“To help small businesses all across Illinois hire back staff and cover operating costs,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday in Chicago, “these are grants, not loans, so not a single cent has to be paid back.”

The state-imposed lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic took their toll on Illinois businesses. Many jobs were lost and Illinois was slower than most states in getting the jobs back that it had lost amid the pandemic.

The Illinois Policy Institute analyzed federal jobs data from April 2020 to April 2021. While the state has added more than 400,000 jobs over that year, it is only 7.7% of the jobs lost during the height of the pandemic.

Now, small businesses are facing challenges finding workers. Unlike many other states, Illinois kept federally-enhanced unemployment money coming in, so many workers are staying home.

As part of the B2B program, $9 million is dedicated to an outreach program to reach the state’s most vulnerable businesses. The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and partners will conduct outreach and mobilize resources to remove any barriers that businesses may face when applying, including language support and completing the application.

The DCEO Community Navigator program works for two reasons, proponents say. First, it recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge small businesses,” said Christopher Merritt, executive director for the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs. “Second, the program works because it relies on trusted community partners to help undeserved and underrepresented businesses secure the financial support they need to recover.”

The first day to apply will be Aug. 18 at www.dceo.illinois.gov.

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