Demand for aid reveals toll of crisis

Post and Courier
November 7, 2020

More than 11K businesses, groups statewide seek virus relief


Small businesses with 15 or fewer employees that didn’t already receive COVID-19 relief this year will be prioritized as state officials start reviewing the more than 11,000 applications it received over a two-week span for small business and nonprofit grants.

Demand was sky-high for a statewide grant program funded with federal CARES Act money to help struggling small businesses and nonprofits recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, numbers released this week show.

More than 11,000 businesses and organizations applied over the two-week period, showing that the financial assistance was still needed, even after tens of thousands of Paycheck Protection Program loans — the federal government’s primary aid program for businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic — went to South Carolina firms earlier this year.

The coronavirus aid, which was approved by the state Legislature in September, was open to any business in South Carolina with fewer than 25 employees that has been operating for at least a year and could demonstrate “financial or operational impact” tied to COVID-19.

Employers that are registered public charities in the state were eligible, too, if the pandemic has affected them financially, either through revenue losses or additional expenses.

Priority is being given to applicants that have not received other federal relief during the pandemic, such as the PPP.

The $65 million allocated by lawmakers for the grants is divided into two pools: $40 million for small businesses and $25 million for nonprofits. Based on figures released Wednesday by the S.C. Department of Administration, there is enough in those allocations to cover a fraction of what applicants are requesting. More than 9,600 small business applicants requested a combined $213 million, an average of more than $22,000 each.

The allocation for the program would cover about 18 percent of the total amount requested. If the $40 million were divided equally among applicants, that would be about $4,155 per business. Grants for that program start at $2,500 and could be up to $25,000, the state said.

On the nonprofit side, which was eligible for grants up to $50,000 in some cases, its $25 million pool of money would fund about one-third of the roughly $76 million requested by 1,590 applicants.

The need in South Carolina’s nonprofit sector is greater than those figures show, said Madeleine McGee, president of Together SC, a statewide group for nonprofits. A study conducted by her organization and the College of Charleston’s Riley Center for Livable Communities found that about two-thirds of nonprofits in the state, as of early September, expected to survive for another six months or fewer without additional aid.

“For pretty much everyone that got PPP, that’s run out already,” McGee said.

Likewise, Frank Knapp, CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, said that while the number of applicants was “very impressive,” the available aid “just scratches the surface of the need.”

Both the small business and nonprofit grant programs are eligible to be replenished with other CARES Act funds if they are not utilized.

The state received almost $2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money in March, and the grants were part of a second round of allocations approved in the fall that distributed $693 million of that money that was left. A large portion of that, about $420 million, went to replenish the state’s unemployment trust fund, which is still supporting tens of thousands of South Carolinians who are out of work. Other money went to COVID-19 testing.

Businesses and nonprofits that applied for the grants won’t know until early December if they’ve been approved and how much they will receive. When applications closed this week, the Department of Administration started an about monthlong formal review process. Actual grants will be issued later in December, according to the department.

Panels of state officials will be assessing the applications. For businesses, they will look at the firm’s financial need and take into account whether it received other aid and if it’s a minorityowned business or one with 15 or fewer employees.

Those minority and so-called “micro-businesses” benefited least from the Paycheck Protection Program, Knapp said.

Nonprofits will be given priority if they haven’t received pandemic-related aid yet this year and if the group provides essential services. The geographic area an organization serves will also be factored in, “so that grants are awarded on a statewide basis,” according to the state’s terms. In the two weeks leading up to the deadline to apply for the aid, state officials, including Gov. Henry McMaster, held news conferences across the state to encourage employers to apply. During his stop in Charleston, McMaster cautioned that this could be the last time the state government gives out more relief.

“This gives everyone another chance and maybe the final chance to have some funds in order to get just enough to get your business going again,” McMaster said in mid-October.

The governor said in a statement Wednesday about the applications that South Carolina’s businesses needed an “easily accessible” relief program and said the results of the two-week push exceeded expectations.

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