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Update 4/29:

After the publication of this article, the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development was able to secure an additional $8 million for its $25 million microgrant program, bringing up total available funds up to $33 million. John Falcicchio, the interim deputy of the department, tells City Paper DMPED will now be able to make awards to more applicants.

“We heard feedback that folks are concerned about only awarding about 2,000 microgrants,” he says. “We made a pivot this month and found more resources in order to make awards to really every qualified applicant.” 

Independent contractors, self-employed workers, and sole proprietors, who were cut out of the program, are now back in. They will get $1,000 awards. Businesses that meet all of the application requirements will receive awards ranging from $2,500 to $14,000. Falcicchio says they will be notifying awardees about their microgrants today through May 8. Each business will be assigned to a Community Development Financial Institution, which will work with them on filling out paperwork to obtain funds via check or wire transfer. 

Falcicchio says he knows that the award amounts won’t enable businesses to recover all of their lost revenue, but stresses that the funds are unrestricted and don’t need to be paid back.

Small businesses, including restaurants and bars, are counting on the D.C.’s $25 million microgrant program to stop the bleeding caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This only became more true last week when the federal government announced the Paycheck Protection Program and the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans ran out of funding. 

The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, which administers the District’s microgrant program, received 7,623 applications from small businesses, nonprofits, independent contractors, and self-employed workers by the April 1 deadline. Until today, there hasn’t been much information shared with the public about how the $25 million will be disbursed. Early details are finally emerging about who will get what and how much.

About 2,000 applicants will receive awards. DMPED removed around 1,600 independent contractors and self-employed workers from the running because they are now eligible for unemployment benefits the CARES Act created. While WJLA reported that each award recipient will get around $10,000, DMPED isn’t ruling out granting larger awards of up to $25,000 as the review process is ongoing. The agency hopes to determine award recipients by the end of the month.

In terms of criteria, DMPED is examining a variety of factors ranging from what industry a business falls under, what restrictions were imposed on each industry during the public health emergency, operating expenses, and the type of business.

The website for the microgrant program stipulates that small business applicants be physically based in D.C. and be considered a small business according to the Small Business Administration’s definition. At least one of the following conditions must also be true: More than 50 percent of the business is owned by District residents; more than 40 percent of gross receipts originate in the District; and more than 50 percent of employees are District residents.

DMPED says it used an economic intelligence team to analyze application data and better understand the impact of COVID-19 on small businesses in order to inform future recovery efforts should more funding become available. 

Business owners and advocates, who all applied to the program, are reacting to the news with concern. 

“Like all homegrown, local business we depend on our local resources, elected officials, and the D.C. government to help us survive such occurrences. So far, we have seen nothing as of yet,” laments Bryan Smith, the portfolio manager at wine import and distribution company Salveto Imports.

“One thing is becoming increasingly clear to D.C. bars, restaurants, and nightclubs: The cavalry isn’t coming,” says Mark Lee. He coordinates the D.C. Nightlife Council when he’s not laid off. “Unless the District government gets serious about allocating a real and meaningful level of financial resources to assist the nightlife establishments it has ordered to close, a startling number of venues will not be able to re-open or ultimately survive.”

Most business leaders have questions about the proposed amount per awardee and want more specifics about the criteria DMPED is using to evaluate applicants. 

“$10,000 is not enough to even cover a single month’s fixed expenses, and certainly not enough to cover even half a payroll run,” says Chris Francke, the owner of Middle Eastern cocktail bar The Green Zone. “I was under the impression that the grants were $25,000, and we certainly met all the criteria listed. There didn’t seem to be any language about preferring certain businesses over others, as long as all the criteria were met.”

“Who are they prioritizing?” he asks.

Amber Bursik, the co-owner of DC9, would prefer if everyone who applied got something in return. “While I understand that the city may feel that $10,000 might be more meaningful to an individual business,” she says, “with the majority of D.C. small independent businesses getting shut out of federal funds, a small amount of dollars from an equal distribution would go along way for morale and keeping the lights on.”

COVID-19 emergency legislation requires award information be made public no later than June 1 or within five days of the public health emergency’s end—whichever comes first. 

“Money” by Tax Credits is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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