Friday Oct. 15 marked the launch of the COVID-19 Small Business Grant Program, which will provide Providence small businesses with microgrants of up to $2,500. Announced by Mayor Jorge Elorza, City Council President John Igliozzi and Council Finance Chair Jo-Ann Ryan, the program will offer grants to over 2,700 qualified businesses using nearly $7 million of federal American Rescue Plan relief funds, according to Faith Chadwick, deputy director of communications at the Office of the Mayor.
“These microgrants will give small business owners some relief when it comes to bills and expenses that might present a greater challenge during the pandemic, or costs that (they) have incurred as a result of COVID-19,” Chadwick wrote in an email to The Herald.
This plan is one of many programs supporting small businesses, including other efforts to waive outdoor expansion fees, provide zero interest loans and facilitate free parking in business corridors. The grant program builds on these existing resources by providing a one-time cash payout where businesses can quickly and easily receive funds to help with bills and expenses, Chadwick explained.
Igliozzi sees the grant program as a way to help businesses recover from the fallout of the pandemic. “We’re coming out of this COVID crisis, but it’s still here,” Igliozzi said. “It’s a serious situation. We still need to be vigilant, we need to pay attention. So we decided to utilize some of this money to also help the small businesses that were impacted.”
The press conference was held at Maya Azteca Restaurant, owned by Cesar Morales, a constituent of Igliozzi and, according to the Council President, a dear friend of over 20 years. “America is about helping each other. We need to be more empathetic with each other’s plights, concerns and problems, but we have to respect each other too,” Igliozzi said. “And Cesar’s a great example of a great American success story. He’s done a great job of creating a great restaurant, and being a great neighbor.”
According to Elorza, Morales is well known in the community, so holding the press conference at his business was a natural decision. “It was wonderful to see the small business community represented at the press conference, and even to have some small business owners apply for the grant program on the spot,” Elorza wrote in an email to The Herald. “We are grateful to have had the opportunity to celebrate this new program with him.”
Elorza is positive that the grants will bolster small businesses impacted by the pandemic. “The small business owners, artists and entrepreneurs in our community have continued to amaze me with their resilience throughout the pandemic,” Elorza wrote. “I hope that spirit of innovation and creativity remains as we continue to adapt and recover from the pandemic, and the City’s goal is to continue to give them the tools they need to do so.”
Executive Director of the Thayer Street District Management Authority Donna Personeus voiced her support for the relief program. “The TSDMA supports programs and grant funding that support and strengthen R.I. small businesses like the 70+ community businesses that we have on Thayer Street,” Personeus wrote in an email to The Herald.
The creation of an online portal will allow business owners to apply for and receive funds in a simple and straightforward manner, Igliozzi explained. The criteria for eligibility to receive these microgrants were intentionally constructed so that small businesses who needed the funds would be able to receive them, whereas others who had no need would not be able to qualify.
“Unfortunately during times of distress, some people try to take advantage of others,” Igliozzi said. “It’s a sad fact in all societies. So we made a checks and balances system in the portal to make sure that businesses that need to get the money get it and those that don’t, don’t get it.”
“Our goal is to make the program as accessible as possible to the small business owners in our city,” Elorza said. To make the grant application accessible to eligible business owners who might not have a computer, Elorza added that the City’s Office of Economic Opportunity Small Business Coordinator Victor Regino will be hosting office hours.
While Igliozzi sees these grants as a way to help businesses out of crisis, he acknowledges that there will be no way to return to a “pre-COVID normal.”
“COVID has accelerated ... technology and advancement in how we do business because we had to adapt,” Igliozzi said. “During COVID, we had two choices, either adapt or fail. And what did we do? We adapted.”