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New $100M grant program to aid pandemic-hit Delaware businesses

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WILMINGTON – A new $100 million grant program backed by funds from the federal government will help Delaware businesses cover expenses incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including missed rent or mortgage payments.

The program, called DE Relief, was announced by Gov. John Carney, New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer and the Delaware Division of Small Business on Wednesday and is funded by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“This grant is about making sure they have the resources can to stay afloat and to do the things they need to do to attract more customers,” said Damian DeStefano, director of the Division of Small Business, during a Wednesday press conference announcing the program.

The grants can be used for purchasing equipment to make a workplace suitable for COVID-19 safety, such as personal protective equipment, plexiglass, air purifiers, etc.; refinancing of debt incurred due to COVID-19, including loans from the state’s Hospitality Emergency Loan Program (HELP); advertising efforts undertaken as a result of the pandemic; and fixed expenses accrued during the crisis.

Damian DeStefano, director of the Delaware Division of Small Business, discusses the DE Relief grant program at an Aug. 19 press conference. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

The size of the relief grant will be based up the business or nonprofit’s 2019 revenue, with a maximum benefit of $100,000. The ranges include:

  • $0-$500,000: Up to $30,000
  • $500,000-$1 million: Up to $50,000
  • $1 million-$2.5 million: Up to $72,500
  • $2.5+ million: Up to $100,000

The program is expected to reach more than 3,000 small businesses and nonprofit organizations, many of which were aided by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) but have since seen those funds exhausted and await additional federal aid.

 The Division of Small Business is administering the program and will begin accepting applications in early September at delbiz.com/relief. DeStefano said Wednesday that there will be three application rounds in September, October, and November for the program, ensuring that potential applicants have enough time to hear about the program.

“What we saw in some of the federal programs was that when they launched all of them at once, there was sometimes a backlog and the information didn’t disseminate to all of the businesses in the community,” he said. “We want to make sure that happens.”

The Division of Small Business will host informational webinars on the program in coming weeks, but DeStefano recommended that interested businesses begin gathering their 2019 tax return and receipts for qualifying expenses.

According to information released on the program, businesses that received $1 million or more in a PPP loan will not be eligible in the first round. Businesses in disproportionately affected industries, including retail, restaurants, arts and entertainment, and child care, will be eligible for the grant even if they cannot show a full year of revenue history.

The program is a reimbursement-based grant, meaning applicants need to have either incurred a cost or plan to do so, DeStefano said. It is the state’s first direct grant program to support businesses battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

To date, more than $5 million has been allocated to more than 300 applicants in the state’s HELP loan program, which targeted hospitality and cosmetology businesses particularly hurt by the pandemic’s restrictions. That program is only open to businesses bringing in less than $2.5 million in annual revenue and has a $10,000 monthly allocation cap. The funds are not grants, however, and the zero-interest loans must be repaid after a nine-month deferment period.

DeStefano said that applicants will be allowed to utilize both the HELP and DE Relief programs, but that certain guarantees may be required if an applicant does not use a DE Relief grant to pay off the HELP loan.

Several industry leaders cheered the new program on Wednesday, noting that it would provide needed relief for weary owners.

“Enhanced financial support for small businesses was a key recommendation of the business subcommittee of Gov. Carney’s Pandemic Resurgence Advisory Committee, and has been advocated for by the state chamber,” said Katie Wilkinson, chair of both the PRAC Business Subcommittee and the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce board, in a statement. “These grants can make the difference for the survival of some of our small businesses over the next few months.”

Sheila Bravo, president and CEO of the Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement, said she was “thrilled that government recognized that nonprofits are small businesses too.” She noted that some nonprofits, especially those in the arts, have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic’s fallout, and many continue to remain closed to the public.

“I think there’s a lot of hopeful nonprofits out there that they’ll be able to benefit from the program,” she said.

Carrie Leishman, president & CEO of the Delaware Restaurant Association, called the program “a welcome commitment by the state to help support our small business community and the valuable jobs they offer to so many Delawareans.”

“The effects of the pandemic have and continue to hit the food services industry particularly hard. While no single effort is a panacea, this program will certainly help restaurants as they work to stabilize revenues while protecting the health and safety of customers and employees,” she said in a statement.

By Jacob Owens

[email protected]

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