By Esteban Montero
Negocios Now (NN): The $ 250 million Back to Business (B2B) grant program is undoubtedly great news for Hispanic small businesses and the business community in general. How do you rate this opportunity?
Sylvia Garcia (SG): Since the start of the pandemic, Governor Pritzker and DCEO have consistently focused on addressing the impacts facing small businesses across Illinois. We know that the impacts of the pandemic have been particularly devastating for communities of color and Latinx businesses, – and for many industries across the board – including restaurants, , retail stores, beauty salons, museums, cultural attractions, and event venues.
The $250 million Back to Business (B2B) program – which is devoted to deploying American Rescue Plan Act funds to businesses across the state who have faced losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic – is a critical part of our economic recovery agenda. This program takes an equity centered approach– prioritizing the hardest hit industries, the hardest hit areas, very small businesses, and those who have yet to receive state or federal government aid during the pandemic. With B2B now open and accepting applications – we are focusing on outreach to hard-to-reach populations – including businesses in communities of color as well as rural areas of our state.
Under Governor Pritzker’s leadership this program builds on last year’s $290 million Business Interruption Grants funded with Federal CARES Act funds. While this program was successful in deploying a record 9,000 grants for Illinois small businesses – with over $18 million for Latinx businesses – we knew that more help would be needed to respond to the needs still facing businesses out there today.
NN: We have spoken with some Hispanic businesses regarding other available grants and they have told me that they are “not lucky” or they think “it would not be for them”, that they do not qualify and would not apply. Can you explain the process to follow in order to apply for this grant?
SG: DCEO is dedicated to ensuring that the diversity of our Illinois communities can be represented in all our economic recovery programs. Even before B2B kicked off a few weeks ago – the Department had launched an aggressive outreach program to help get the word out to business owners about this program. To make sure we are reaching businesses who need information about the program – we have enlisted the help of over 100 trusted community organizations – we call them our community navigators – who are working with DCEO to not only canvass the state and meet with business owners, but to provide direct technical assistance and help business owners with filling out the application step by step.
Applying for B2B is easy using our streamlined application portal, which allows businesses to prepare their application and save it to finalize later. The application takes about 30 to 40 minutes to fill out and businesses can also use the portal to check status on their application once submitted. Applicants only need a few documents, including their 2019 and 2020 taxes, two bank statements – one from April-Dec 2020 and their most recent statement, and their business ID (accepting Driver’s License, Matrícula Consular Card, etc). Business owners without a social security number may use their individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) to apply. Plus, it’s important to note that this is a grant program, not loan, so they will not need to worry about paying this back in the future if they receive a grant.
NN: What kind of assistance is available for employers so they can be successful in the application.
SG: For any business owner who faces barriers or concerns with applying – whether due to language barriers or technology questions – they can get help TODAY by contacting DCEO or one of our 100 community navigator partners. The application is available in Spanish and many of our partners are available to provide technical assistance in Spanish. A list of services available by region and language assistance services across the state is available on DCEO’s website at dceo.illinois.gov on the B2B page. Organizations across the state are hosting in-person opportunities for businesses to stop by their facility to submit their application. Businesses can bring their documents with them, scan and upload them, and receive help completing the application onsite.
NN: If you apply today for this grant, when will we find out which companies will receive the aid.
SG: DCEO and our grant administrator partners have begun reviewing applications and expect to make the first awards in September. While it is difficult to say exactly how long reviews may take, depending on how many priority criteria your business meets – your application could be reviewed within weeks. The most important thing we want businesses to know is that they should not delay in applying – these funds are limited and we want to make sure they reach those who need them most.
NN: In light of this opportunity, what message do you have for the Hispanic business community?
SG: The Pritzker administration, DCEO, and I are all personally invested in you and your success – and making sure that Latinx businesses hit hard during the pandemic can get the help they need to recover.
Consistent with our approach to economic development – we are committed to making sure that COVID-19 recovery programs are centered around equity. That means helping Latinx communities and businesses qualify and be represented in our programs regardless of where you live and regardless of immigration status – that is why B2B grants – similar to our BIG program – accept ITINs .
While the B2B program is an important tool as part of the Governor’s economic plan for the state – but it is not the only tool. We expect to launch additional programs in the month ahead to support the needs of our communities with capital investments, workforce training, community assistance and more. We are committed to making sure Latinos are empowered with information to seize on these opportunities. We will continue to host webinars, events and outreach in partnership with our community partners, chambers of commerce and elected officials to help get the word out about upcoming opportunities.