State officials have awarded $46 million in grants to small businesses throughout the state that have experienced financial loss or disruptions as a result of coronavirus-related closures, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday.
“Just like the virus attacks our most vulnerable people, it also hits our most vulnerable parts of our economy. It’s our small businesses, our working families, our communities of color that have paid the highest price,” he said. “Fighting the virus’s effects on the health and safety has been a top priority for me from the very beginning and battling the economic effects of COVID are just as important.”
Nearly 2,700 small businesses in more than 400 cities across the state received grants of $10,000 to $20,000 as part of the first round of the Business Interruption Grant (BIG) program, according to the governor’s office.
More than half of those businesses were reported to be owned by people of color, including residents who are Black (14%) and Latino (11%), according to Pritzker’s office.
“The initial focus of these grants has been on businesses that have been most severely impacted by COVID-19 – those that were completely shut down in the spring and those that are in COVID-impacted areas that experienced property damage amidst the looting and civil unrest in June,” Pritzker said.
The grants can be used to help businesses with working capital expenses, including payroll costs, rent, utilities and equipment, as well as other unexpected costs to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, such as personal protective equipment, according to the governor’s office.
“While the first round of BIG will provide a much-needed boost for thousands of businesses around the state, we know there is much more we must do,” said Michael Negron, acting director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. “Through a number of programs launched in recent weeks, and with another round of BIG on the horizon, we will continue to respond to the needs facing our business community and work to provide assistance where it’s needed most.”
But posting a grant application isn’t enough, said Negron. To ensure small business owners and entrepreneurs of color can access that funding, DCEO is investing $1 million to expand outreach capacity by working with four community-based organizations, including the Chicago Urban League.
“I know from experience as a small business owner that this program can be the difference between sustaining your business through a difficult time and having to suspend operations either temporarily or permanently,” said Karen Freeman Wilson, CEO of the Chicago Urban League.
The state is also partnering with the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, The Resurrection Project and Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation to serve as community navigators to assist entrepreneurs of color.
During the press conference, Pritzker and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike reminded people to wear face coverings, maintain social distance and wash their hands as the number of coronavirus cases climbs.
“My concern is growing each day about the direction our numbers are going,” Ezike said.
The IDPH reported 1,645 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and 16 virus-related deaths, bringing statewide totals to 198,583 cases and 7,672 deaths. The statewide positivity rate is 4.1%.
Ezike also expressed concern about the number of hospitalizations. After declining in May, Ezike said the number of people going to the emergency room with COVID-19 symptoms began increasing last month. As of Tuesday night, 1,525 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 and of those, 357 were in intensive care units and 129 on ventilators, according to IDPH.
The number of cases and the positivity rate has also been increasing. “Let’s bring the numbers down by using the simple but effective tools that we do have to fight against this enemy. That includes masking, hand washing and distancing 6 feet,” Ezike said.
Pritzker warned that if things don’t change, stricter measures could be enacted. “We don’t want to go back to where we’re shutting things down,” he said. “But the truth is, we will inevitably get there if we keep moving in the wrong direction.”