Small businesses see some relief with grant funding
From Staff Reports
After three weeks of Rhode Island’s Pause, a partial business shutdown and voluntary curfew issued by Gov. Gina Raimondo in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, beginning on Dec. 21 the state entered its post-Pause phase with some business restrictions lifted. During this latest phase, restaurants were allowed to operate at 50% capacity indoors, with only parties from the same household allowed to dine in and with no more than eight people per table.
Outdoor dining was restricted to just two households per table, with a maximum of eight people per table. The use of bar seating remained prohibited. Restaurants and bars were required to have last call by 10 p.m. on weeknights and end service by 10:30 p.m. on weekends, with takeout and delivery still permitted beyond those hours. Indoor, professionally catered events held in nonresidential settings were permitted with 15 people or less.
Even with new mitigation efforts, Rhode Island remained in the top three states in the nation with the highest rates of COVID-19 cases per capita, with a test positive rate of 7.4% as of press time. Gov. Raimondo also entered self-quarantine for the second time during the pandemic in early January due to her exposure to a person who tested positive for the virus.
Struggling independently owned small businesses in the hospitality sector continued to await more state and federal funding. The $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus bill was signed on Dec. 20 and gives qualifying individuals an extension of unemployment benefits and direct cash payments, while providing funding for a new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans.
More financial aid also came through to businesses in Rhode Island in the form of local grant programs. On Dec. 17, the RI Commerce Corp. distributed a total of $8.7 million through 43 direct support grants to large arts and cultural organizations and hotels that also suffered huge financial losses due to the pandemic.
The program was met with some criticism for favoring large hotel chains over smaller, independently owned venues because it only provided grant funding to hotels with 200 or more rooms.
Gov. Raimondo announced on Dec. 31 that more than 4,100 small businesses received a portion of $51 million in grants through the Restore RI Grant Program, a program aimed at helping small businesses offset financial hardships brought on by the pandemic. With grants of up to $30,000, $18 million of those funds were allocated to more than 900 restaurants.
Grants were also awarded to businesses and organizations in the arts, hospitality and tourism sectors through the Rhode Island HArT Grant Program. The program reimburses Engagement, Service and Resilience activities (ESR Funds) related to operating in the pandemic, such as hosting virtual activities and meetings. An additional $10 million was paid directly to 79 qualifying businesses in these fields as of press time.
Financial help is also available to hospitality businesses who have had to pivot their normal operations in order to meet the demands of pandemic restrictions or meet the needs of customers who are looking for more takeout and delivery, through grants which support ESR activities.
Grants in the sum of $1,500 are still available through the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Rhode Island Hospitality Association (RIHA) to be used on expenses incurred from Nov. 1-Feb. 15 for costs associated with the donation of food items to staff or nonprofit organizations, for holding virtual dinners for guests who picked up takeout, for implementing new POS systems for online ordering and delivery, and for implementing curbside pickup programs and loyalty programs. Completed applications are accepted at firstname.lastname@example.org by Feb. 15, 2021.
Other grant programs still open include the Rhode Island Hospitality Employee Relief Fund, a grant program open to hospitality-industry employees who are employed by active members of RIHA and who are facing financial hardship due to being laid off during the pandemic. The one-time grants of $250 are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis to up to five employees through the eligible companies, to be used for necessities and basic expenses.