Erie County ‘Back to Business’ grant program completes application review process
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz on Monday announced the completion of the Erie County “Back to Business” grant program, reporting that grant recipients will be notified via email and checks will be distributed by mail beginning today.
Erie County, working in coordination with 43North, announced the grant program in October, committing funds from CARES Act funding to offer direct financial assistance to eligible small businesses with 50 or fewer employees. In less than three weeks’ time, the program received 5,022 applications totaling over $95,000,000 in requests.
“Our goal was to distribute funds to businesses in greatest need, in amounts that will create a meaningful impact. I’m hopeful that this financial relief allows the grant recipients to endure this ongoing crisis,” Poloncarz said. “I’d also like to acknowledge and thank 43North who took on the monumental task of administering this grant program. Their team worked around the clock, lending their expertise and resources to complete this enormous effort and ensure that these funds are swiftly delivered to the neediest among our small business community.”
A total of 1,366 grants will be disbursed in seven amounts ranging from $2,500 to $45,000. Applicants reflected a wide variety of industries within the small business sector, with restaurants, salons and local retailers submitting the largest number of applications, and restaurants claiming the largest number of approved grants. Nearly 40% of grant awardees had received no or negligible amounts of previous COVID-19 relief aid covering less than 10% of their losses, while 33% of awardees lost over half of their annual income.
Erie County Business Task Force co-chair Brenda McDuffie said, “The ‘Back to Biz’ grant is another great example of how members of this community come together to respond to the needs of our small businesses impacted by COVID-19. The rapid mobilization of community partners to develop, solicit, select and now deliver grants to businesses will have a significant impact on these businesses surviving through these perilous times. Thank you to all of the partners for again showing what happens in Erie County through our work together.”
Co-chair Scott Pallotta said, “The Erie County Business Task Force recognizes the severe impact to all businesses affected by the pandemic. We are proud of all of the people that came together to distribute these funds in a very short time frame. We look forward to a continued collaboration to help all business in need.”
Geographically, 52% of recipients reside in “distressed” and “highly distressed” ZIP codes. When considering Erie County as a whole, 48% of the grants will be disbursed to businesses in the City of Buffalo with 52% to the surrounding suburbs and rural communities. Additionally, 30% of recipients are minority-owned businesses while 60% are women-owned businesses.
43North worked with a team of certified consultants along with volunteers from M&T Bank, Ernst and Young, and the Buffalo Urban League to conduct the extensive application review process, which included both manual and automated evaluation techniques administered across a multi-phased approach.
“43North is pleased to have completed a diligent and efficient review process that will get millions of dollars into the hands of local small business owners – all of whom are in dire need,” said Colleen Heidinger, president of 43North. “We’re grateful to our partners and the grant review team that aided in this critically important effort, making determinations judiciously and in an expedited time frame, all while satisfying the need-based criteria set forth by Erie County.”
Congressman Brian Higgins said, “The hardships felt by small businesses as a result of this pandemic are unavoidable and real. These federal CARES Act funds will provide a bridge to help many local small businesses get through this turbulent time.”
Just over 3,000 of the over 5,000 applications received for the grant program made it to the final phase of review. From there, grant determinations were prioritized based on need, ranking higher for businesses in distressed ZIP codes, companies that were unable to open during the pandemic closure, and businesses owned by disabled veterans. The review process also considered factors such as total revenue lost, as well as not receiving PPP or losing more in revenue than receiving in aid. For applications that were not approved, nearly all had received other COVID-19-related aid, had lost a smaller portion of their revenue due to COVID-19, or were disqualified for submitting applications with significant inconsistencies or missing documentation.
All applicants were expected to be informed today of the determination of their application via email. Checks will then be distributed via certified mail to all grant recipients. Grant amounts and denied applications cannot be appealed.
Grant funds can be applied to a range of eligible expenses and must be utilized by Dec. 30, 2020. Based on requests and the extensive reported losses, it is expected the bulk of the funds will cover reimbursements for past expenditures, as well as efforts to retain or bring back employees.