COVID-relief grants target nonprofits and small businesses: California’s $4 billion program still has $1.5 billion left – if you apply soon

Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash

By Mark Hedin/Ethnic Media Services

TIME is running out for small businesses and nonprofits to apply for $1.5 billion of state funding remaining for grants – not loans — through the California Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Program.

If you’re a sole proprietor, an arts organization, a nonprofit or a business with annual revenue of less than $2.5 million, you have until the end of the month to get your application in for grants that range from $5,000 to $25,000.

As of Sept. 3, the state has already distributed about $2.5 billion in these grants, in increments of between $5,000 and $25,000, to more than 200,000 applicants.

The Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development in late July added another $1.5 billion in funding for a total of $4 billion since the program began with a $500 million commitment via SB 151 in December 2020.

It’s the largest such program in the country and the largest economic recovery program in state history.

At a press briefing hosted by Ethnic Media Services and California Black Media on Sept. 9, several nonprofit and small business proprietors were joined by Everett Sands, CEO of  Lendistry, which is managing the program and  Jan Masaoka, executive director of the “nonprofit chamber of commerce,” Cal NonProfits.

Sands said that, although there are other programs managed by the federal and local governments, he expects that in California, the current rounds of the state program will be the last. Sept. 30 is the deadline to apply.

Applications can be made via the website  CAReliefGrant.com.

“The application process is quite easy,” said Earl Jones, of the Bridge Builders Foundation in Los Angeles, one of those grant recipients, who also spoke at the event. “All I had to do was demonstrate that I had a business, a bona fide business, and I just provided some documentation that most businesses should have. Comparing 2020 income with 2019 income was the key.”

Among grant requirements are that the business or nonprofit must have been operating in mid-2019 to qualify. There’s a revenue upper limit of $2.5 million, and a lower limit of at least $1,000, but the proprietor need not be a U.S. citizen.

Lendistry has a call center open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for technical assistance. That number is: (888) 612-4370. There’s another call center dedicated to arts and cultural organizations, operating at the same hours, at (866) 759-5320. It’s the only organization administering the program, and applicants are not charged.

The CAReliefGrant.com website includes links to partner organizations that can help with the application process, sorted both by language and county.

Additionally, there is a calendar of several webinars daily, six days a week, that provide information on how to apply for the grants, with a variety of emphases, for instance, on arts and nonprofit organizations, in numerous languages, along with pre-recorded webinars in English, Spanish or Arabic, and application guides in Spanish and Cantonese.

Lendistry, a community development financial institution, is also administering similar programs in Pennsylvania and New York, and on the federal Paycheck Protection Program as well.

“No other state has come close to California,” Sands said. New York’s program, he said, only had $800 million and did not allow nonprofits to participate.

As of Sept. 3, Lendistry has already approved 212,780 grants in California totaling almost $2.5 billion. Sands said that in demographic terms, 59% of the grants have gone to minority-owned businesses – 33% Asian, 18% Hispanic, 7% Black, 2% Native American — 55.5% to women-owned ones, and 2.5% to nonprofits.

Masaoka, of Cal NonProfits, which is offering application multilingual assistance via phone at (415) 535-0738, emphasized the importance of small businesses in California’s huge economy.

“Nonprofits and small businesses are close cousins,” she said, stating that there are 92,000 nonprofits in the state, 13,000 of them led by communities of color, that collectively provide one of every 14 jobs.

By their nature, nonprofits are dedicated to their communities in ways that the for-profit sector isn’t. For instance, she said, nonprofits have to reinvest any revenue into their organizations, which cannot grow just to be sold off at a profit someday. And they’re barred from endorsing or funding political candidates.

“So these things all demonstrate how nonprofits are democratic in nature and beholden to society in a very deep way that for-profits can’t be.”

Calling by phone from the “broadband-challenged” Central Valley, was Mary Jane Galviso, director of Rural Communities Resource Center in Fresno, one of the organizations Cal NonProfits was able to help obtain a grant, which went to upgrade irrigation systems in parched farmland.

But, she said, the application process still took longer than she’d have liked. “Five thousand doesn’t get you far,” she said, “but we did put it to good use.

Leigh Henderson of the nonprofit Teatrounivision in San Jose credited the Lendistry-run state program for providing a lifeline for her work once the pandemic shut down ticket, merchandise and concession sales.   She said it helped her company keep its small staff on payroll during the pandemic.

Funding has been distributed in six rounds so far. The final round,  which began accepting applications on the day of the briefing, will be open to new applicants as well as ones previously waitlisted who need not reapply.

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