A boost in city of Kent small business grants to $6,500 and a loosening of restrictions could bring economic relief to more companies during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Only about 87 businesses out of 220 applicants were eligible during the initial round of applications for the Kent Small Business Emergency Relief Funding grants, said Bill Ellis, city economic development manager, at a July 28 City Council Committee of the Whole meeting.
Many were ineligible because they had received help from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). City staff revised the rules and decided a business could still get a city grant even if they had received funds from other agencies.
Small business owners complained to the city about the restriction and pointed out that some of the SBA grants were for just $1,500 or $1,000.
“We were rejecting almost half primarily because they received some form of SBA assistance,” said Ellis, who added staff then studied the issue and decided to make the change since the new rules still complied with requirements about how the city could spend federal CARES Act funds.
City staff also decided to increase the grant to $6,500 per business up from $4,500.
“The dollar amount increasing is something that changed as we looked at partial closures and phases continuing longer that it’s sensible to increase the size of the awards,” Ellis said.
The city will pay for a total of $1.5 million in grants from a $3.8 million grant it received from the state Department of Commerce through the federal CARES Act. Kent will hold on to about $2.3 million of the grant to cover costs to the city because of COVID-19.
Small businesses have until 8 p.m. Aug. 9 to apply for the grant on the city website at kentwa.gov. The initial deadline prior to the changes was July 27. Small businesses must have 15 employees or fewer to apply for the grant.
“Hopefully, with the larger grant size, combined with the loosened criteria and deadline extension, we’ll be able to provide more meaningful help to struggling business owners,” said Michelle Wilmot, city economic development program manager, in an email.
Business owners who already applied do not to apply again as they will be considered for grants under the new guidelines, Wilmot said. Winning applicants are scheduled to be notified on Aug. 17. The city expects to award about 200 grants.
City staff made sure business owners who preferred to receive information about the grants in a language other the English were helped through a link on the city website.
About 50 applicants indicated a preferred language other than English, Ellis said. That included about 20 requests in Spanish, 11 in Vietnamese, four in Punjabi and several in Japanese and Russian.