comscore Kokua Line: Aid program for small businesses reimburses them for some pandemic expenses | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Hawaii News | Kokua Line

Kokua Line: Aid program for small businesses reimburses them for some pandemic expenses

Question: Could you please clarify whether and/or under what conditions a small business that accepts this new money from the city will have to pay it back? The news called it a grant, but it doesn’t seem like it.

Answer: We’ll get into the details, but to be clear from the outset, you are talking about the Small Business Relief and Recovery Fund, which will reimburse eligible Oahu businesses for up to $10,000 in expenses (each) related to the pandemic and its economic fallout. It’s not a loan — the business doesn’t have to pay the money back. But neither is it an upfront grant — the business must submit proof of payment for allowed expenses before receiving the money.

Here’s more information from Alexander Zannes, spokesman for Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell:

“The Small Business Relief and Recovery Fund is a grant, not a loan, of up to $10,000 to small businesses in the City and County of Honolulu with less than $1 million in gross annual revenue and with 30 or fewer employees. This grant is a reimbursement, so applicants must provide ‘proof of payment’ for bills paid or items purchased. A special aspect of this program is to reimburse the costs of a business purchasing items/equipment to comply with social/physical distancing and other safety measures to comply with the COVID-19 issue.

“Applicants can go to website and click on the Small Business Relief and Recovery Fund tab to get to the page that describes this entire program, lists all the qualifications and requirements, documents needed for application, and links/portals to servicing credit union based on last four digits of a business’ GET number. The program is also open to nonprofit organizations that are 501(c)(3) or 501(c)19 designation. For nonprofits without a GET number, a separate portal is provided for application.

“Currently this program is open to small businesses with a commercial business location, not with a residential address.

“Participating credit unions will service all applicants; one (does) not need to be a member of a credit union, and there’s no requirement for becoming a member to apply.”

Applications are handled online only, at The credit unions disbursing the funds will not accept applications in person, the website said.

The $25 million for this program comes from U.S. Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding.

Q: So I can use it to buy the face masks and sanitizer and dividers and shields and so forth? It’s kind of a Catch-22 though because I don’t really have the money to pay for all the stuff I need to reopen.

A: Yes, to your question. As for your comment, we’ve heard similar from other sole proprietors who would have preferred an upfront grant rather than a reimbursement.

According to the website, the one-time reimbursement can be used to cover a wide variety of expenses, as long as those bills weren’t paid using other funding from the CARES Act.

Rent, utilities and payroll all would be allowed, as would the costs to implement physical distancing in the COVID-19 era, whether that means buying Plexiglas work station dividers, as you mentioned, or upgrading internet service to boost online sales for delivery or curbside pickup.


I was one of the lucky ones who got my license renewed the first day the DMV reopened and it went fine. The customers complied with the distance rules and everyone appeared masked and the staff was efficient. So good job all around and thanks for that. Life can go on. We are adaptable. — A reader

Write to Kokua Line at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email

Correction: An earlier version of this story said expense reimbursements could be used to cover lost sales and lost opportunities, but that is not the case.

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