LANSING, Mich. - Relief is coming to Michigan businesses after a board last week approved $58.5 million in grants for economic losses due to the coronavirus pandemic that has strained the state’s economy.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last month signed into law a spending plan to help repair the economic impact from the coronavirus. It included an allocation to the Michigan Strategic Fund under the Michigan Economic Development Corp. to distribute grants to eligible businesses.
The board approved two programs to distribute funds during a meeting on Thursday: the Michigan Small Business Survival Grant Program to help businesses that had to close or partially close during the pandemic; and the Michigan Stages Survival Grant Program to help businesses pay workers who were laid off.
Funds from both programs can be used for payroll expenses, building expenses and other business-related expenses.
The Michigan Small Business Survival Grant Program will award $55 million in grants of up to $20,000 for small businesses that were forced to close and grants of up to $15,000 for the businesses partially closed.
To be eligible for a grant, businesses must have had one to 100 employees on Nov. 17 and show the impact pandemic restrictions had on them.
With COVID-19 continuing to impact businesses, specifically restaurants that are limited to outdoor dining due to health orders, small business owners like Ginny Sherrow, co-owner of Fenton Winery & Brewery, are looking for help. Though her business has outdoor seating and offers takeout, winter weather is hitting Fenton in Genesee County and it’s getting harder to cover operating costs.
"We have applied for every single grant that has come out of any government entity or organization since March," Sherrow said. "Although we have applied to everything, we haven’t yet been awarded anything. We need to use that money to pay our property taxes, which are due here to our local township."
The Michigan Stages Survival Grant Program will award grants of up to $40,000 to help entertainment venues, for a total of $3.5 million.
To be eligible, venues must normally produce or provide live performances. They must also employ less than 30 full-time employees and can’t apply for the Michigan Small Business Survival Grant Program.
Program applications will open Tuesday and close Friday. Grants will be distributed by Feb. 28, but could come as soon as Jan. 29.
The grants are not first-come-first-serve, unlike a $10 million strategic fund program in December when more than 22,000 small businesses raced for about 650 grants. Sherrow said industry leaders called it, "The Hunger Games for small businesses."
Through the strategic fund the Michigan Economic Development Corp. has awarded $180 million in grants to support more than 18,500 small businesses over the past 10 months, corporation President Mark Burton said during a media call before the strategic fund board meeting.
"As this pandemic continues, we remain committed to leading a strong economic recovery in Michigan, to ensure our state’s 10 million residents and its businesses receive the support and relief they need, not only to survive, but to grow long after this pandemic is over," Burton said.
Grants are just a "drop in the bucket", Sherrow said, and they can only help so many people.
What’s needed is meaningful long-term changes for all business owners, not just those who can score a grant she said.
At the beginning of the year, Whitmer vetoed a bill that would have eliminated penalties for businesses who waited to pay their 2020 summer property taxes. Whitmer said the Legislature strayed from agreements they had made earlier about economic relief spending so she vetoed a few lines in the overall spending package.
"That would have helped every single small business owner and small business in the state automatically instead of having us fight for grant funds," Sherrow said. "If we get the loan, it’s just barely enough to pay our property taxes, so it’s going to go from the state government to the local government."