NY has begun giving out $800 million to small businesses, arts groups

Originally published in Newsday on July 12, 2021.

The state has begun distributing $800 million in pandemic-relief grants to small businesses and small for-profit arts and cultural organizations, officials said.

Empire State Development, the state’s primary business-aid agency, has received more than 50,000 applications for the new COVID-19 Pandemic Small Business Recovery Grant Program.

Applicants, as a group, are seeking "close to $1 billion" in grants, or about $200 million more than ESD has to give out, said Pravina Raghavan, an ESD executive vice president.

The program was included in the 2021-22 state budget and offers grants of between $5,000 and $50,000. The amount is based on the applicant’s 2019 gross receipts. They must have 100 or fewer employees.

More information may be found at nysmallbusinessrecovery.com.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has estimated more than 330,000 firms are eligible for the grants. He has said priority will be given to applications from businesses owned by women, veterans, members of minority groups or located in poor neighborhoods.

Raghavan said, "We’ve hit the intention of the legislation to target micro businesses, to prioritize the socially- and economically-disadvantaged business owners and also to help support small business owners who did not receive federal funding."

She told the ESD board 2 1/2 weeks ago that the online portal for grant applications will close when "we get closer to funds running out."

Some federal pandemic-relief programs exhausted their funding soon after being launched, most notably the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, or RRF, in May, and the first phase of the Paycheck Protection Program loans in April 2020.

ESD began distributing the grants last week, according to agency spokeswoman Kristin Devoe.

Last month, Cuomo signed into law a bill that he proposed to make the ESD grants free from state taxes. The law exempts the grants from the state corporate franchise tax and personal income tax.

"Now that the program is up and running, we need to make sure that we’re stretching every dollar for the biggest impact and the strongest economic recovery possible, and by removing state taxes from these grants, we’re putting more money into the small businesses who need it most," said Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck), who sponsored the bill as chairwoman of the Senate’s small business committee.