Small businesses have waited nearly a month and a half to apply for $10 million in grant money set aside for Travis County’s small business grant program, designed to help companies affected by the Covid-19 economic downturn. After weeks of planning and logistics, the businesses will be able to apply for funding beginning July 6.
Beforehand, the county will open a pre-application process from June 15 to July 3 to allow smaller enterprises to fill out an eligibility form, see an example of the contract and identify whether they require assistance completing the application. Christy Moffett with the county’s Health and Human Services Department told the Commissioners Court at its June 9 meeting that the county is partnering with Business & Community Lenders of Texas to offer assistance to businesses completing the grant application and is encouraging small and diverse local businesses to apply. BCL will also distribute the awarded funds.
Travis County will award grants of up to $40,000 for no more than 250 businesses beginning July 25, and grants will be distributed as reimbursements for eligible expenses. Businesses may file for reimbursement of expenses made between March 1 and Nov. 30. All reimbursement requests must be submitted by Dec. 10 to be paid by the county no later than Dec. 30.
Eligible businesses must be within Travis County, but outside of the city of Austin, and may not have received another loan or grant for the same expenses. The enterprises that the county is targeting are required to have fewer than 25 employees and a maximum net annual revenue of $500,000. Owners must commit to keeping the business open for a minimum of 12 months from the grant award date.
Moffett told the commissioners that while there is $9 million available for businesses ($1 million of the total money set aside is for administrative costs), “we anticipate that we will not be able to fund the demand for the program.”
Since the county is anticipating having more applicants than funds, county staffers outlined the parameters that the review committee will use when selecting grantees. Diana Ramirez, the director of the Economic Development Department, said the review committee will be composed of people from the target communities, and businesses will be evaluated based only on the information in the application, as the names of the companies will be omitted from the selection process.
Prioritized businesses include those that are woman- or minority-owned; that employ or are owned by low-income individuals; that are located in low- to moderate-income census tracts; and that did not employ a third party to fill out the application.
Although businesses that do not meet these criteria will not be excluded from the applicant pool, Moffett said the intention is to focus on small and vulnerable businesses as well as “unique mom-and-pop businesses.”
Commissioner Gerald Daugherty pointed out that the requirement for businesses to remain open for 12 months following the receipt of grant funding may be difficult and that some may go out of business despite receiving a cash infusion. Moffett explained that there is not currently any recourse for the county to recuperate the funds if an enterprise goes out of business.
“We’re really trying to make sure we’re supporting businesses to stay open but we don’t want to harm them,” she said.
To help prevent such a situation from occurring, grantees will need to go through a business coaching class with BCL and create a continuity plan to bolster the health and longevity of the company. The nonprofit economic development organization will also follow up with the grantee businesses in the summer and fall of 2021 to track the efficacy of the cash infusion from the county.
After reviewing the guidelines and timeline proposed by staff, commissioners unanimously approved the approach and authorized the process to begin.
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