This story was updated at 11 p.m. on April 9, 2020 to include additional details on program requirements.
Maryland Secretary of Commerce Kelly Schulz said she hopes more financial assistance is coming for businesses after applications for two state grant and loan programs were closed on Monday.
A notice on the Department of Commerce website says it “is no longer accepting new applications for its COVID-19 Relief Grant and Loan Programs” as of 5 p.m. April 6.
When Gov. Larry Hogan announced the relief funds on March 23, there was an “immediate response of thousands of applications,” Schulz said.
The department had to build a new system to handle the applications. More than 100 volunteers have been recruited to help review the applications.
The closing of applications left many businesses without the ability to seek help from the state, although Montgomery County is now launching its own relief fund for businesses.
“Hopefully, with the passage of some of the federal relief through [the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES] Act and some of the other programs, we’re hoping to be able to get some additional funds into the state,” Schulz said. “If we can get those additional funds into the state, obviously it will be one of our priorities to try to put some more into these funds to be able to serve the existing applications that we have on file.”
Although the state’s business relief grant fund and business relief loan funds are closed to applications, Schulz said applications are still being taken for manufacturers retrofitting their systems to provide critical medical supplies and equipment during the coronavirus pandemic.
Grants of up to $100,000 will be provided through that program to purchase equipment and hire additional workers, she said.
Schulz addressed questions about state funding for small businesses Thursday during a webinar hosted by Montgomery County Vice President Tom Hucker.
During the webinar, which about 150 people attended, instructions were also reviewed for how to apply for the county’s $20 million Public Health Emergency Grant Program for small businesses and nonprofits.
The applications are expected to open on Monday or Tuesday and will most likely be approved on a rolling basis, according to Montgomery County Business Liaison Officer Daniel Koroma.
Grants of up to $75,000 will be provided to businesses and nonprofits with no more than 100 employees. Other eligibility requirements include the need for the primary location to be in the county, or more than 50% of the employees must work in the county, or more than 50% of revenue is made in the county.
Another requirement is that businesses and nonprofits apply for state and federal grants prior to applying for grants from the county. Because the two major state funds are closed to applications, Koroma said there will be an option for county applicants to indicate that they were not able to apply for the state grants. When applicants are prompted to select which state and federal funds they applied to, they should select “other” and indicate they were not able to because of closed applications, he said.
Twenty-five percent, or $5 million, of the funds will be specifically reserved for the restaurants and retail storefront businesses.
Mini grants of up to $2,500 will be provided to help cover costs of purchasing technology equipment and software for employees to work remotely.
Hucker said he and Council Member Nancy Navarro are considering a proposal for additional funds specifically for restaurants and retail. He did not say how much those additional funds might be.
Koroma said applications will be considered based on the amount of revenue lost because of Hogan’s orders for nonessential businesses to close because of the coronavirus. Restaurants were allowed to stay open only for takeout and delivery service.
State Sen. Cheryl Kagan, who represents District 17, asked how the county will prioritize and select which entities will be funded. She requested that no geographic areas be left out when considering applications.
Koroma said the regulations have not been finalized yet, but the language in the legislation stresses a focus on a significant decline in revenue.
“Those are the ones we’ll have to look at first,” he said.
Hucker said he believed the county will “make sure all grants don’t go to one area of the county over another.”
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said he had several meetings on Thursday to discuss how the county’s emergency grants should be apportioned.
“Are people OK if just the first 400 people come in and they ask for $50,000 and that money is gone? Or should we provide, say, 1,000 businesses a base of a $10,000 grant and then add to that grant based on those businesses’ additional needs? We all know $20 million is not going to cut this.”
Elrich said the county’s resources won’t be enough to get businesses through the pandemic. He urged them to also apply for state and federal assistance, especially help through the CARES Act and the Payroll Protection Act.
“If you maintain your payrolls at a 75% level — and you’re allowed to hire these folks back by the end of June … then you basically would be eligible for not just having a loan for your rent and your utilities and your bills, but the government would turn that into a grant, as well as a grant for your payroll,” he said of the Payroll Protections Act.
It’s wide open for businesses to apply and traditional underwriting standards are not being applied, he said.
Hucker also encouraged businesses and nonprofits to tell county officials what the community’s needs are.
“We’re all doing the best we can under very difficult circumstances and trying to stand up government relief programs at the county and state and federal levels that are responsive to your needs,” he said. “We develop much better policy when we hear directly from you and know what you need.”
About 90% of the businesses in the county have fewer than 50 employees, he said, making small businesses the “backbone of our economy.”
Schulz encouraged businesses and nonprofits to consider applying to as many local, state and federal programs as are available.
“There have been some uncertainties about the federal programs and I think over a period of time, those are starting to get ironed out,” she said.
Schulz said task forces are being formed to help figure out how businesses can plan to reopen once the public health emergency ends. The first, a tourism task force, is made up of individuals from the hospitality, restaurant, casino and sporting event industries.
As far as the businesses that got applications in for state grants and loans, Schulz said they can check the status of their applications online.
The applications are being reviewed in the order they were received.
“At this point in time, there are funds left because we haven’t gone through all of the funds at the beginning of our process. That means right now, there are funds,” she said. “It doesn’t mean there is going to be funds tomorrow when we get through the rest of the applications.”
If applicants are rejected for an application, there would be an explanation why.
A webinar attendee asked Schulz if Maryland would join other states in requiring insurance companies to honor business interruption insurance for government-initiated shutdowns.
Schulz said she couldn’t provide an answer.
“I know that our insurance administrator, Al Redmer, has been talking to insurers about that. So that’s kind of more a legislative type of fix,” she said.
Hucker said he hopes more financial assistance will come from the state and federal governments.
He said he organized a letter that most of the County Council members and Elrich signed to send to Hogan to support taking $500 million out of the state’s rainy day fund to support struggling businesses.
Hucker said county officials are doing as much as they can to help local businesses.
So far they have fast-tracked local permits for businesses to sell alcohol and lobbied for the allowance of alcohol carryout sales, he said. In addition, they have worked with Elrich to suspend parking enforcement for 40 zones in retail areas.
Have more questions?
Questions or concerns about the state assistance funds can be sent to email@example.com.
Maryland businesses interested in becoming an emergency vendor to provide medical equipment and supplies can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information on the county’s emergency grants can be found here.
For other Bethesda Beat coverage of the coronavirus, click here.
To see a timeline of major coronavirus developments in Maryland and Montgomery County, click here.