By Lauren LeBel
SOUTHWICK — More than a year and a half after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Agawam and Southwick still haven’t exhausted a small business assistance fund.
Qualified businesses face a Dec. 15 deadline to apply for a Regional Small Business COVID Recovery Grant, which can provide up to $25,000 to replace revenue lost due to the pandemic. The program began in November 2020 in multiple Pioneer Valley towns, and all have awarded their entire allotment except Agawam and Southwick, which share a $350,000 fund.
Dee Dice, a consultant working for Valley Community Development Corporation as the administrator of the grant, said some terms of the grant have changed since it was first announced. For example, in the beginning, businesses were only able to receive a grant up to $10,000, and they had to have been in business before January 2019. Now the maximum award is $25,000, and any qualifying business that was operating on the date the pandemic state of emergency was declared — March 10, 2020 — can apply.
“Originally they weren’t giving money away as rapidly,” said Dice.
Over the past year, several businesses have taken advantage of this one-time-grant. Easthampton, Granby, Hadley, Hatfield, South Hadley, Southampton and Westhampton awarded all the grants they had available. In Agawam and Southwick, businesses that have already received funding include a hair salon, a day care, a fitness business and an education business.
“[It] covered quite the gamut,” said Dice.
At press time, Dice estimated there to be four to five grants still available in Agawam and Southwick. To qualify for this grant, applicants need to be considered a “micro-enterprise,” meaning they have five or fewer employees, including the owner. In addition, Dice said applicants will need to show where they will use some of this funding.
Some of the expenses that the grant can be spent on are working capital, technology and online marketing or sales services, safety equipment and products, business advising and support, and costs for adapting to operations during the pandemic.
“The grant was originally for funds going forward, but now people can be reimbursed for money already spent,” said Dice. With this, applicants can show their lease and rent checks dating back to 2020.
Dice said the businesses must be able to show how much revenue they lost because of COVID-19 in order to receive a grant of a matching amount, up to $25,000.
Dice said the staff at Valley Community Development can assist applicants. For some, the online application process may be challenging, however, Valley Community Development can help business owners format their profit and cost statements, and much more.
To qualify for the grant, the businesses must be current on their fees and taxes with the town government, and any business owners must meet household income limits, such as an annual income of $47,150 or less for a one-person household, or $67,300 or less for a four-person family.
The application deadline is Dec. 15, with grants awarded on a first-come basis.
The grant program is funded by the federal CARES Act and administered by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and Valley Community Development, a nonprofit that works to improve the lives of low- and moderate-income individuals.
Dice said the grant was received in October 2020, but “it took months to get the applications ready.” By November, businesses were finally able to apply.
To apply, visit www.valleycdc.com/small-business-development/covid-small-business-relief-program.