Decatur revises and extends program for small business aid

Decatur has revised its small business loan program by changing the loans to grants while allowing for more businesses to apply through an application process next month. Bill Banks file photo for the AJC
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Decatur has revised its small business loan program by changing the loans to grants while allowing for more businesses to apply through an application process next month. Bill Banks file photo for the AJC

Earlier this week Decatur’s commission approved revision of the city’s Emergency Small Business Loan Program by in part turning it into a grant program. Additionally, the commission approved extending the program by allowing more city businesses to apply for grant money.

This is made possible by the $2,914,440 Decatur received from the Coronavirus Relief Fund under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security or CARES Act. Out of that total CARES package the city is carving out $900,000 towards small business relief grants.

In June the city held a lottery that selected 28 businesses (out of 45 applying) eligible for its COVID-19 emergency small business loan program. The loans ranged from $5000 to $25,000, with the average amount delivered to loan recipients at $20,185.

The total amount loaned was $563,400, with $400,000 coming from the city, $100,000 from the Decatur Development Authority, and $63,400 from a Decatur Legacy Project fund raiser.

Initially businesses were given four years to repay the interest-free loan and had to begin repaying 12 months after termination of Governor’s Public Health State of Emergency Order (that’s still in effect).

But the city received its allotment of CARES funds last month. During its Oct 19 meeting the commission voted taking $500,000 out of CARES and repaying the existing small business loans, thereby converting the loans to grants. The commission also voted to take an additional $400,000 in CARES funds and apply those towards a new small business grant program.

This new grant program will adopt an application process similar to the original loan program. Criteria is similar except that the new process allows for sole proprietors and extends the maximum number of full-time equivalent employees from 30 (in the original loan program) to 50.

As before applicants can request from $5,000 to $25,000. A blind lottery will again select the grantees if the application requests surpass the money available. The 17 businesses that didn’t make the lottery cut in June would have to re-apply.

Angela Threadgill, the city’s Planning & Economic Development Director, and the DDA Executive Director, said she won’t know until next week the timeline for applying, though it will likely commence in early- to mid-November. As required by the CARES Act, the money has to be dispersed by Dec. 20.

No money has to be repaid as long as businesses meet certain criteria including that it’s still operating or intends to resume operation no later than December 20, 2020, that it’s located within city limits, and that all taxes and fees owed to the city are paid up when the request is submitted.

A separate program for $300,000 in grants to local non-profit organizations is expected to be recommended to the City Commissioners at their regular meeting on November 2.