St. Petersburg offers cash to businesses and workers affected by coronavirus shutdown

The city will be offering $5,000 grants to eligible small businesses and $500 grants to employees.
St. Petersburg-owned bars and restaurants and their St. Petersburg resident employees will be eligible for the grants.
St. Petersburg-owned bars and restaurants and their St. Petersburg resident employees will be eligible for the grants. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published April 4, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — It’s been said over and over that the businesses hurt most by this age of social distancing and safer-at-home orders are the small ones.

So St. Petersburg has opened a grant program to help those businesses stay afloat while the city has all but shut down during the coronavirus pandemic. Called the Fighting Chance Fund, the city hopes to disseminate modest amounts of cash to locally-owned small businesses and their employees.

“St. Pete’s locally-owned businesses are the backbone of this city,” said Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin during a Facebook Live appearance on Friday. “While we remain focused on public health and ensuring compliance with the CDC social distancing guidelines to save as many people as possible, we must also begin to think ahead about the economic impact COVID-19 will have on our city.”

The grants will come in sums of $5,000 for restaurants, bars, retail and service industry businesses owned by St. Petersburg residents that employee fewer than 25 workers and can prove a loss of revenue due to the coronavirus. Employees of those businesses who are city residents and who have been laid off, furloughed or had their pay cut by at least 50 percent since March 17 will be eligible for $500 grants.

“These businesses, and their employees, deserve a fighting chance,” Tomalin said.

City officials stressed that since the payments are grants and not loans, the money doesn’t need to be paid back. But it is taxable income, so recipients should plan for that.

Businesses that receive the grant money must prove that they will use it for either commercial rent or mortgage payments, utilities, payroll, retention of employees or employee support programs.

Tomalin said there are about 900 businesses in the city that could qualify for the grant. Collectively, they employ more than 3,000 eligible workers.

If every eligible business and worker claimed their grants, it would amount to about $6 million. The grants are being paid for by a $6.8 million reimbursement the city got from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for expenses incurred during and after Hurricane Irma.

Applications for grants will be available beginning April 9, and city officials said they will accept applications until the funds are depleted. There is no deadline.

City officials also said they are setting up a fundraising process to help with a second phase of grants for eligible businesses and employees, should that become necessary.

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