Oahu bars, gyms, arcades and others that have been forced to close or operate at greatly reduced capacity will be eligible to tap from $24 million in additional money that’s being infused into the city’s Small Business Relief and Recovery Fund, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said Monday.
The one-time reimbursable “special” grants will provide up to $20,000 to those who are eligible, city officials said. Caldwell specifically referenced bars and nightclubs, gyms and fitness facilities, arcades and commercial recreational boating operators.
The existing Small Business Relief and Recovery Fund set up with federal CARES Act funds has provided $151 million to more than 6,800 small businesses, city officials said.
The new parameters allow those who’ve already received grants through the original criteria to reapply, said Ed Hawkins, executive director of the city Office of Economic Development. “So this is additional.”
Also eligible for the new funding are qualifying businesses that applied but have not yet received grants, and those eligible businesses that did not apply for the program by Oct 19, the previous cutoff date, Hawkins said.
“There are still some left, and we want to make sure that all those who have applied will have an opportunity to be reviewed and serviced,” Hawkins said.
The new funding will be made available starting Dec. 1 through the four federal credit unions partnering with the city on the program, but applications are being accepted for only one week, Caldwell said. The grants come in the form of reimbursements, so businesses need to submit receipts.
Expenses eligible for reimbursements under the program include rent, utilities, payroll and expenses used to institute physical distancing measures.
For more information, go to oneoahu.org.
To date, the fund has provided roughly $151 million to approximately 7,000 businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic, Hawkins said.
Caldwell said it’s been painful for him to prohibit certain businesses such as bars and gyms from opening.
“Even though we’ve opened up from Tier 1 to Tier 2, there are certain businesses that remain closed or are open in very limited capacity,” he said. “And I can’t begin to imagine the economic hurt that we’ve caused to these businesses … and I feel very sad when I walk by some of these businesses.”
But he’s stuck with those tiered-step mandates because “these decisions were made based on the health of the residents of the City and County of Honolulu, and without the health of the residents, you can’t have a healthy economy.”
In related news, Mayor- elect Rick Blangiardi indicated earlier Monday that he is willing to be more aggressive in reopening Oahu to allow for such things as bars, other small businesses and team sports to be open more quickly than under Caldwell’s existing tiered system.
“I would really be willing to … take a look at what we can do to open up certain things,” Blangiardi said during Monday’s segment of the Honolulu Star- Advertiser live streamprogram Spotlight Hawaii. “I think I take a very different approach to what’s being done right now on getting our kids back to playing sports.”
Generally, “I really want to take a look at that versus keeping everything shut down,” Blangiardi said. “At some point we need to learn to live with this disease.”
Blangiardi takes over the reins of city administration from Caldwell at noon Jan. 2.
“I will tell you that the tiered system seems to have had some good effect,” he said, adding that he’s observed more people with face coverings and adhering to social distancing and other prescribed methods to deal with the pandemic.
“I think at some point, I don’t believe we can wait this out,” Blangiardi said. “I don’t want it necessarily going back to the tiered system (and have it) be driven by the metrics. I want to look at the science and the data. And right now our containment of the disease here … these are low percentages in comparison, and I really want to be able to weigh that.”
He stressed he’d first want to sit down with the medical community for its advice. “But I’m just telling you, for me and my personal bias … I’m going to be a little more interested in being a little bit more aggressive, I believe, if we can.”
With tourism now expected to return to Hawaii’s shores more slowly than originally anticipated, “I’m concerned about all of the businesses that got deemed nonessential and where they are right now at this moment in time, and whether or not we can at least get people back to work,” Blangiardi said. “I want to look at that. Really, especially because we have so many smaller businesses …. the ones that have been deemed essential that are doing well, but we’ve got a lot of small businesses that are on the brink of, if they aren’t already closed, perhaps closing … because the impact on our economy is huge.”
Caldwell, when told of Blangiardi’s comments, said he’d caution his successor to be more measured.
He noted that the number of positive COVID-19 cases went up several months ago shortly after bars were allowed to open. “And so we had to shut down again,” he said.
“And so for me, I don’t want to repeat the same mistake, which is why we have a tiered system in place that is conservative,” Caldwell said.
“Because we know that to move backwards and to shut down … the economic bleeding that comes from that — I’ve been told by businesses that they can’t afford a third shutdown,” he said. “So if I was still mayor going forward, I’d be very cautious about opening things up too quickly.”