PROVIDENCE – After nearly a month and a half of public pressure on Gov. Gina M. Raimondo to use federal CARES Act funds to help small businesses, Raimondo announced Wednesday that she is committing $200 million of federal funding to provide immediate relief for education, training, small-business relief and to help child care centers. However, not all of those funds will be available immediately.
Raimondo said she is allocating $100 million to directly support Rhode Island’s smallest businesses with $50 million in the first round of funding for direct cash assistance to assist with reopening expenses. In addition, 20% of these funds will be allocated for minority-owned businesses.
Each grant will be a maximum of $15,000 for the first round, according to R.I. Secretary of Commerce Stefan Pryor.
Pryor also said that dollars are not expected to go out to small businesses until about a month after an application was completed and applications will not be made available for another couple of weeks.
Raimondo said the funding is designed to support small businesses that have been hit hardest during the pandemic. To qualify, businesses must have 20 or fewer employees or have lost significant revenue due to COVID-19. She said $26 million will go to critical small- business support services in the coming weeks.
“The need is so huge, we want to get this out as fast as possible,” said Raimondo when answering questions about how much longer relief could take for these small businesses. “It’s important that we get it right. If it takes another week, it takes another week.”
The governor said if Rhode Island depletes through the first round of $50 million quickly, the state will replenish it again. She said one-third of the state’s unemployment filings have been in food, hospitality and retail.
In addition, Raimondo said $20 million will go to small businesses from the Small Business Development Fund and that the state is pursuing an additional $5 million for the tourism industry from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
Raimondo’s announcement comes as Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee and the newly formed R.I. Small Business Coalition, led by Trailblaze Marketing founder and President Chris Parisi, placed further pressure on the governor to allocate at least 10% of Rhode Island’s $1.25 billion in CARES Act funds to help small businesses by issuing grants.
“There are a handful of states that are ahead of Rhode Island in doing this,” acknowledged Raimondo. “This is not an easy thing to do.”
However, Parisi responded in a statement that the state’s step toward relief is not enough, as the governor only announced $50 million dedicated to small business relief compared with his ask of at least $125 million.
“We are also concerned at how long it will take to get the direct cash assistance into the hands of small business owners,” said Parisi in a statement late Wednesday afternoon. “We hope it is equitable to all small businesses that were negatively impacted by COVID-19, and the Administration is not picking winners and losers.”
“This is a small business crisis that affects all Rhode Islanders.”
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