By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
As part of the PA Coronavirus Small Business Assistance Program, The Northside Community Development Fund (NSCDF) is accepting applications from small businesses in need of grants from August 10 to 28. Businesses in Allegheny, Beaver, Greene, Lawrence and Washington counties employing 25 or fewer employees, with under $1 million gross revenue, are eligible for grants ranging from $5,000 to $50,000.
This is the second round of grants as part of this program, which was allocated over $200 million by the Pennsylvania state government to cushion the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on small businesses statewide. The first round of this program was created after the initial round of emergency grants from the state in late March, some $61 million, was quickly exhausted. Those initial grants were largely distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, which resulted in minority-owned businesses being underrepresented among grant recipients.
For more information on the Pa. Coronavirus Small Business Assistance Program, visit the NSCDF website.
“If you were an economic development organization that worked with the state, you’ve got your own customers, you’ve got their information. Of course, those are the first ones that got submitted,” said Mark Masterson, executive director of the NSCDF. “But it cut out a lot of small businesses that needed the funding too, and what really hit hard was…there were very few businesses that got funded that were minority-owned.”
The NSCDF, along with 16 other community organizations from across Pennsylvania, convened with state representatives to determine how to better allocate these relief funds.
“We had said, ‘We can do something like this, this is our customer base,’” said Masterson. “We worked out a program we developed to get $200 million in grants to go to small businesses around the state of Pennsylvania.”
The $200 million in grants were split into two rounds of funding, with the first accepting applications between June 30 and July 14. Over 25,000 completed applications were received during that time, and just under 5,000 businesses ultimately received a grant, totaling $95 million in aid. 51 percent of that aid went to minority-owned businesses.
“We tried to prioritize around need and how much of a hit someone took,” said Masterson.
Factors considered high priority in the application process included whether the business lost a majority of their income, if the business is located in a rural or Main Street location, and if the business is in an industry that has been significantly affected by pandemic restrictions, like restaurants, hair salons, and others.
The scale of the pandemic has resulted in a significantly higher demand for financial assistance than is currently available.
“There’s $400 million in requests that did not get funded that could be. It’s just a lack of money,“ said Masterson. “We’re gonna have more than $1 billion in funding applied for by the end of this week, when you include the first round.”
The money for the Small Business Assistance program comes from a $3.9 billion stimulus package Pennsylvania received as part of the CARES Act, a federal measure to help Americans weather the initial impacts of COVID-19. Of that stimulus, $2.6 billion has been allocated, but what the remaining $1.3 billion will be used for has yet to be determined. The future of the program is uncertain at this time, but Masterson hopes some of that remaining money will fund a third round of grants, knowing how many are in need of a lifeline, something to keep everything they’ve worked for from slipping under the surface.
“You’ve got people living their lifelong dream to start their business, things were going well, they didn’t do anything wrong,’ said Masterson. “Then, this hit them and it devastated them, and they might not survive.”