BIG program helps small businesses

Illinois officials on Friday, Jan. 8, announced more than $275 million in nearly 9,000 emergency assistance grants have been made to small businesses in over 600 cities and towns statewide through the Business Interruption Grants, BIG, program. 

The funding was announced by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, DCEO, and Gov. JB Pritzker.

Small businesses in Union County are among those receiving emergency assistance grant funds.

Those receiving grants in Union County included Sinisi’s on Main in Anna, the Shawnee Hills Arts Council in Anna, The Kitchen on Lafayette in Anna, Abbey Ridge LLC (Downtown Abbey) in Cobden, Lincoln Heritage Winery (which is located between Anna and Cobden) and Feather Vines LLC (Feather Hills Vineyard & Winery) in Makanda/Union County. 

 State officials said that through the BIG program, the largest of its kind in the nation, grants have been made available to a wide range of small businesses, with a focus on the industries and communities hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis, and with the majority of funding going to smaller and minority-owned businesses. 

Friday’s announcement marked the conclusion of the BIG program, which was created by the governor and the General Assembly to assist Illinois’ hardest hit businesses with making ends meet during the pandemic.

“Small businesses are the backbone of their local communities, providing essential goods and services to Illinois residents across the state,” the governor said in a news release.

“Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, too many of those businesses are facing tough choices about the future, which is why my administration worked quickly to launch the historic BIG program to provide the relief business owners need.

“Through BIG, the state was able to provide nearly 9,000 grants to small businesses in every corner of the state, with nearly half of all grants going to businesses in industries and communities hardest hit by COVID-19. 

Over $275 million in funding has been dispersed, allowing businesses to make payroll, purchase PPE, and cover other necessary operational costs. 

“While the BIG program has now concluded, my administration continues to provide other relief programming for Illinois businesses and families impacted by COVID-19,” the governor said.

Using an equity framework created by the Pritzker administration and the General Assembly, the BIG program sought to ensure that the hardest hit businesses and communities would be prioritized for small business grants provided using federal CARES Act dollars. 

As a result, nearly half, or over 4,200 awards, were made to businesses located in disproportionately impacted areas, DIAs. 

More than 80 percent, or over 7,300 awards, were made to businesses with $1 million or less in annual revenues; and 40 percent, or over 3,600 awards, were made to minority-owned businesses statewide. 

Additionally, $105 million or 3,100 awards were provided to downstate communities. 

“Through the historic BIG program, we are proud to have helped thousands of deserving businesses with assistance that will help them continue to make payroll, afford operational costs, and make ends meet during these unprecedented times,” said DCEO director Erin Guthrie. 

“With equity a cornerstone of Governor Pritzker’s response to COVID-19, our BIG grantees represent the hardest hit industries, the hardest hit communities, and among the smallest and most vulnerable businesses affected by the pandemic. 

“We thank our community and grant partners for their tireless work over the past several months, and we stand committed to assisting more small businesses impacted in the months ahead.” 

The hardest hit industry sectors are among the largest beneficiaries of this program, including restaurants and taverns; gyms and fitness centers; museums; performing arts venues, event venues, concert venues; and indoor recreation. 

Businesses located in downstate communities were also prioritized for funding. 

Nearly half of all funds went to restaurants and taverns, with 3,747 grants totaling more than $133 million dollars. 

More than 2,700 grants were made to other heavily impacted industries.

BIG grants average $30,000 in size. Grants were tailored in amounts ranging from $5,000 to $150,000, according to the amount of loss incurred. 

The funds may be used toward reimbursing losses due to COVID and operational expenses, including PPE, rent and utilities, payroll and more.  

To receive BIG grants, businesses were required to demonstrate they experienced losses due to COVID-19, and that annual revenues in 2019 did not exceed $20 million. 

To administer this unprecedented program quickly and efficiently, DCEO partnered with Accion Serving Illinois and Indiana and the Women’s Business Development Center, WBDC, to launch a streamlined online application process to respond to the urgent demands facing businesses. 

Thousands of applications were reviewed each week, and more than 50,000 were reviewed in total before the program closed. 

Given the extended nature of the crisis, DCEO maintained a rolling application to ensure that small businesses in every part of the state had ample opportunity to apply and receive grant funding, with many businesses awarded funds in the final weeks of 2020. 

To help small, minority-owned and hard to reach businesses gain access to the program, DCEO partnered with a dozen community organizations to conduct outreach and technical assistance for businesses seeking funding. 

Community outreach efforts complemented efforts by DCEO’s own statewide network of 42 Small Business Development Centers, regional economic development liaisons and businesses development directors in the Office of Minority Economic Empowerment who partnered with community leaders, chambers, and legislators to conduct over 200 webinars, 1:1 Technical assistance, and calls reaching over 15,000 businesses throughout the course of the program.

Additionally, the BIG program has allowed DCEO to provide loan forgiveness totaling $7 million for over 200 businesses that received low-interest loans through the Illinois Small Business Emergency Loan program. 

The Department of Agriculture is processing applications for up to $5 million in business interruption grants through the livestock facility grant program.

The BIG program is one part of over $1 billion in emergency assistance programs awarded by the State of Illinois in response to the economic crisis created by COVID-19. 

The programs have collectively provided financial assistance to thousands of businesses and communities across the state, through programs including the $250 million Local CURE program, $325 million through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, and over $580 million distributed to small business and childcare providers through the BIG program.

The Gazette-Democrat

112 Lafayette St.
Anna, Illinois 62906
Office Number: (618) 833-2158

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