A business owner’s guide to Pa.’s next wave of COVID-19 relief grants

The aid is targeted at businesses with fewer than 300 employees that have lost at least 25% of their sales as a result of the pandemic.

(Charles Fox/Philadelphia Inquirer)

(Charles Fox/Philadelphia Inquirer)

Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. A version of this story originally appeared in our free weekly newsletter.

Help is on the way for Pennsylvania’s struggling bars, hotels, and restaurants, as $145 million in state grants becomes available this month.

The aid is targeted at businesses with fewer than 300 employees that have lost at least 25% of their sales as a result of the pandemic. Priority will go to those that have not received relief from other state and federal programs, had to temporarily close as a result of Gov. Tom Wolf’s business shutdown orders, or lost more than half of their revenue in 2020.

But the details of how and when to apply vary from county to county.

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First off, business owners need to find out which organization will be handling applications in their county. (A list of the groups eligible to help is available here and here.)

These local groups must start taking applications by March 15, at the latest, although some plan to start sooner. Businesses in Lancaster County, for instance, will be able to apply on March 8.

Some counties — Montgomery and Dauphin for instance – have already made the application forms available so that business owners can start to prepare their paperwork. Others, like York and Allegheny, are still developing them, but encourage business owners to sign up for email updates.

As with previous business aid programs, a rush of applications is expected, with demand far exceeding the funding available. The Harrisburg Regional Chamber & Capital Region Economic Development Corporation, which is administering the program in Dauphin and Perry Counties, warns businesses that the program is expected to be “quickly oversubscribed” once applications open there and that the application window can be closed “at any time.”

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Business owners in those counties should look carefully at the information already available online, which includes eligibility criteria, sample application forms, and details on the supporting documents required, said David Black, the Harrisburg Regional Chamber’s president and CEO. The organization will also hold a training session March 11 at 9 a.m., walking business owners through the application process step by step.

The grant program is rolling out as the U.S. Senate considers another stimulus package that includes $15 billion in grants for small businesses. The state funding will help small businesses survive until more federal relief becomes available, said John Longstreet, President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association.

“We’re describing it as a downpayment on what it will take to help save the restaurant and hotel industry,” he said.

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