ALBANY (TNS) — To help bridge the gap in funding once the federal Paycheck Protection Program monies ran dry, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in June a new $800 million recovery grant program for small businesses still recovering from financial losses during the pandemic.

The first group of recipients were notified of their awards mid-July and will be receiving their grant dollars shortly.

While 50,000 businesses applied to the program, as many as 330,000 businesses were potentially eligible across the state, meaning a lot of state grants are being left on the table. The minimum grant award was $5,000 and all awards are calculated on the business’ annual gross receipts for 2019.

It poses the question — why didn’t more people apply?

Webinars were held to spread the word about the New York State COVID-19 Pandemic Small Business Recovery Grant Program and ensure businesses knew how to apply if they were eligible.

In Ulster County, fewer than 15 businessowners were in attendance for a webinar. Tim Weidemann, director of Ulster County Department of Economic Development, said that while he can’t say exactly why more people didn’t apply, a challenge Ulster has faced with both this state grant program and federal programs is how to help businesses that can’t prove their losses between 2019 and 2020 because they were a new business in 2019.

”I do think there is value in this grant,” said Weidemann. “It’s not a small number who already applied, which indicates they are still struggling and need support in order to pivot, recover and come out of the pandemic successfully as a business.”

The program reimburses small businesses with grants of up to $50,000 for COVID-related expenses incurred between March 1, 2020, and April 1, 2021. The program is made just for small and micro businesses, including for-profit independent arts and cultural organizations that began operating on or before March 1, 2019.

A small business is defined by the state as employing 100 people or less, while a micro-business is defined as employing 10 people or less.

Priority is given to socially and economically disadvantaged business owners, including minority- and women-owned businesses, service-disabled veteran-owned and veteran-owned businesses, as well as businesses located in economically distressed communities.

Because it’s still considered a new program and applications remain open, there’s time for it to grow. “People are slowly learning that this is a resource they may not have been aware of,” said Weidemann, who still receives inquiries about the grant.

Applications are still open, with an undetermined amount still available out of the $800 million originally allotted to the latest relief program.

The grant money can be used for payroll costs, commercial rent or mortgage payments, payment of local property or school taxes, insurance costs, utilities costs, costs of personal protective equipment, heating, ventilation and air conditioning costs, other machinery and more.

The program will last until the funding is exhausted. Because of a limited amount of funding and the high volume of applications, business type, geography and industry also factor into the ability to receive a grant.

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan in 2020 and 2021, which ended on May 31, provided support for many businesses during the pandemic. Those who received a loan then are still able to apply for this grant, as long as the total of all PPP loans does not exceed $100,000.

Unlike most federal pandemic-related relief programs, the NYS grant is a source of direct economic relief and does not have to be paid back. PPP was primarily aimed to keep employees on company payrolls and keep businesses open, while New York’s program looks to help small businesses recoup some of the costs they incurred at the height of the pandemic.

Businessowners can also skip the bank for this grant and apply online instead through Lendistry, a minority-led community development financial institution.

The Pandemic Small Business Recovery Grant Program isn’t the only available relief, but it is the largest in the past few months. For restaurant owners, there is $25 million in grant funding available to support restaurants that provide meals to distressed and under-represented communities.

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