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City of Boise set to approve $1.5 million in small business grants by end of 2020

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Posted at 12:47 PM, Dec 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-24 14:47:12-05

BOISE, Idaho — This article was written by Margaret Carmel of BoiseDev.

The pandemic continues to hit businesses hard, but the City of Boise hopes to give some of them a boost.

The city is in the process of paying out $1.29 million in cash grants to businesses to help offset costs from the pandemic, with a goal of giving a total $1.5 million in aid by mid-January. The program, which was funded from federal relief funds from the State of Idaho, is paying Boise’s small businesses up to $15,000 in aid to help them cover some of their costs.

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As of December 18, the city paid out $420,930 and approved another $871,633 set to go out to businesses in coming weeks. The total request for aid, including what has been paid out and applications waiting to be approved, totals $2.935 million from 258 Boise small businesses.

Because the funds for the grants came from the federal government’s CARES Act program, if they are not spent by the end of the year they will revert back to Washington D.C. City spokesperson Seth Ogilve said the goal is for all of grants to go out and help businesses as quickly as possible.

“People need money in their pockets and right now is the time to stimulate the economy,” he said. “We want to spend that money.”

Widening requirements led to more applicants

Applications were somewhat slow to trickle in at first because of the city’s eligibility requirements barring businesses who had already received either state or federal aid from applying. But, after the city retooled the program in November and opened it up to anyone who had already received aid a flood of applications came in and the city is in the midst of processing them. The application deadline is December 30 and final paperwork must be turned in by mid-January.

The average award for businesses as of the first week of December was $10,137.

Ogilve said a frequent miscommunication they had with businesses who applied for assistance was they needed to request funding for specific expenses, instead of just receiving $15,000 in cash.

Big Sky Events and Catering, which also owns The Crystal Ballroom event space, benefited from one of the grants from the city. Owner Jonathon Jacobsen said his business got the full $15,000 in two installments, which he called “a drop in the bucket,” but it helped his company pay partial rent on their commercial kitchens and the Crystal Ballroom.

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“It’s got to be helping people because you can shoot a cannon through downtown right now,” he said. “The Crystal Ballroom went dark on March 14 and it hasn’t had anything in it since. We have possibly one thing this year and that would be the freshman legislative luncheon and they’ll have to cancel. It’s pretty feasible we will have the lights off in there for a full year.”

Josh Davis, owner of JD’s Bodega on Capitol Boulevard, said his company applied for aid from the city on the first of December and has still not heard back due to the deluge of applications. After learning about the high demand for funds he was understanding, but hoped to hear more communication from the city on what was going on.

“We were going into the application wondering if we did it the right way, if we were really going to get accepted for this and then to get the confirmation and not hear anything else it was like ‘ok did we fall through the cracks?’” he said. “We have no idea.”

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Ogilve said communication between the city and business has been “constant.”

“Our goal is to ensure that funds are distributed to Boise small businesses that need them,” he said “If there is an issue with an application, staff connects with the business to rectify the issues. If a business does not meet the requirements of the program, they are notified via email after the City of Boise team reviews it.”

What about the state funds still left?

FARE Idaho, a group of restaurants, bars, retailers and family farmers advocating for COVID-19 relief, praised Boise’s grant program, but is hoping for more from the state of Idaho. Dave Krick, owner of Bittercreek Alehouse and board member of FARE Idaho, said he hoped Little would loosen the restrictions on which businesses could apply for Idaho Rebound grants to help more owners.

“The only businesses able to get an Idaho rebound grand are ones who didn’t get a (paycheck protection program) loan or any other kind of grant and we suggested they remove that requirement because (the state) has not only a huge pile of money but they’re also bragging about record tax revenues,” Krick said. “We have businesses really hurting, especially restaurants and bars around the state.”

Little’s spokesman Marissa Morrison said the state has an unpaid balance of $42 million of CARES Act funds and it is “considering all options” for how to use it to help Idahoans. The state has paid out roughly $110 million in direct grants to businesses in 2020.