Providence eases COVID-19 Small Business Grant Program eligibility

THE CITY OF PROVIDENCE on Wednesday announced it was eliminating the tangible asset minimum from a COVID-19 small business grant program in an attempt to get more applicants ahead of the July 1 deadline. / PBN FILE PHOTO/CHRIS BERGENHEIM

PROVIDENCE – With 90% of the city’s small-business grant program funding still up for grabs and less than a month to spend it, city leaders are loosening the requirements for applicants.

Mayor Jorge O. Elorza and the Providence City Council on Wednesday announced that the city is doing away with the tangible asset minimum for its COVID-19 Small Business Grant Program, and automatically approving applicants who have been denied because they didn’t meet that threshold. 

The $7 million program, created as part of a plan to spend an initial $42 million tranche of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act, has had a slow uptake since launching in October 2021. While the city in creating the program estimated 2,700 small businesses would be eligible for the $2,500-apiece grants, just 365 have applied as of Wednesday, according to Theresa Agonia, Elorza’s chief of external affairs. Even fewer – 229 – have been approved for funding, meaning that the city has only spent $572,500 of its $7 million pot.

The tangible tax requirements, which originally limited eligibility to companies with at least $5,000 in tangible asset (and no more than $1 million), were criticized by some local business leaders for being too restrictive.

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Striking that requirement means another 35 businesses that have already applied and did not meet the tangible tax minimum will now get money, upping the total spend to $660,00.

However, that still leaves more than $6.3 million unspent, and just over two weeks until the July 1 application deadline.

City lawmakers expressed optimism that the loosened restrictions and a final outreach push would help drum up interest for the grant program.

“I would encourage any Providence business owner who may not have qualified under the old guidelines of this program to submit an application,” City Council President John Igliozzi said in a statement. “While we put the word out and have advertised for more than six months, money is still available to help with expenses. We all know a business owner who suffered during the pandemic. Please share this information with them.”

Meanwhile, the city council has also proposed reallocating the unspent money elsewhere. Under the fiscal 2023 spending plan that has received first passage from the council, any money left in the grant program would be repurposed for “revenue recovery”  and “equally divided by ward for small business infrastructure and other capital improvements.”

Redirecting the leftover money to other programs and expenses was one of several changes council members made to Elorza’s original fiscal 2023 budget. However, the mayor is supportive of the change for using up the grant program money, Agonia said in an email.

All other eligibility requirements for the grant program remain the same. For more information or to apply, visit https://pvdrescueplan.com/.

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. Contact her at Lavin@PBN.com.

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