A number of agencies and philanthropic organizations in the Endless Mountains region of northeastern Pennsylvania have joined forces to coordinate and implement the Small Business Assistance Fund to help companies employing two to 20 people maintain operations and get back on their feet after the COVID-19 pandemic passes. Corporate donations provided the feedstock for the initiative, but more will be needed to meet needs during the extended closures and production slow-downs resulting from the health crisis.
Trehab, which operates in Bradford, Susquehanna and Wyoming counties will be responsible for distributing the funds in the form of grants. Donations are being accepted by Commonwealth Charitable Management (CCM), while Interfaith of Susquehanna County, the Progress Authority in Bradford County and the Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce are assisting with the coordination and promotion of the program.
The initiative moved quickly from discussions to preparation and implementation, according to Dennis Phelps, executive director of Trehab. “This occurred in regard to discussions that we had with Cabot Oil & Gas as to what we can do immediately,” he explained. “Our community partners are concerned about very small businesses that may be applying for some of the federal assistance grants and loans in order to keep them operational until they can get that assistance.”
“The whole process was less than ten days in the making,” Melissa Turlip, program manager for CCM concurred. “Our small businesses have been closed for many weeks struggling to figure out when they can get back to operation.” That unknown, she continued, is just one of the stresses that this program is designed to help alleviate.
While some businesses deemed by Gov. Tom Wolf as non-essential have been shuttered indefinitely, others that are not mandated to close are struggling to develop new business models to keep their customer base engaged. Both have been adversely impacted and may be eligible for a $1,500 grant.
“We have so many great small businesses in our counties that offer new ideas and opportunities, and we don’t want to lose them,” Turlip remarked.
“Small businesses are the backbone of our communities,” said Gina Suydam, president of the Wyoming County Chamber. “Our little leagues, churches and non-profits rely on them time and time again.”
“We can use it in the most beneficial and responsible way. We know our communities better than the state or federal government,” added Tony Ventello, executive director of the Progress Authority. “We can get these dollars into the businesses’ hands to make sure that they are used for the best things, and we can be accountable for it.”
Applicants must represent a for-profit business that has been in operation for a minimum of one year and be able to demonstrate how their business has been affected by the COVID-19 economic slowdown. Businesses with storefronts or physical locations will be prioritized, but others who may qualify for the grants might include plumbers, carpenters or other contractors who are currently unable to work due to the governor’s stay-at-home order.
“We expect to go through the money quickly,” Phelps stated. The program was announced on April 14, and Phelps expects to start receiving applications immediately. A small panel representing the partner agencies will review applications and grant approvals. “The overall concept is that we are trying to give them a little bit of money so that they can hold on until another relief is available.”
Businesses with more than 20 employees will be given consideration on a case-by-case basis. The grants are intended to cover operating expenses like rent, utilities and insurance and not for payroll or unemployment compensation. Interested business owners can find the grant application online at bit.ly/small_biz_grant.
The application window opened on Tuesday, but the impetus at this time is the solicitation of tax-deductable contributions from other businesses, organizations, trusts, and individuals.
“Anyone can donate to the fund,” said Turlip. Non-specified contributions will be put into one larger fund, but donors can retain anonymity and select the county in which they want their contributions distributed. “Our goal is to make sure that our donors can put their funds into where they see the greatest need,” Turlip maintained.
“Companies with the ability to give are stepping up to show their support to those most in need,” Suydam added. “I’m proud to be a part of a community that lifts each other up in hard times.”
“We have a tradition of helping each other,” Ventello agreed.
Donations can be mailed to Commonwealth Charitable Management, attn: Small Business Assistance Fund, 270 Lake Ave., Montrose, PA 18801.