A city program to award $10 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to Oahu small businesses that suffered economic losses during the pandemic has garnered hundreds of applicants.
In January, the city, in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, launched its effort — the Oahu Business Recovery grant program — to allocate a share of the city’s State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds to assist small businesses earning $75,000 to $5 million that endured a drop in revenue of at least 25% during the pandemic.
The program began taking online applications — initially set at 400 — from eligible small businesses at revitalizeoahu.org/oahubizgrant.
“The program started accepting applications on Jan. 30 and closed on Feb. 9 after receiving 600 applications from Oahu small businesses,” said Patrick Williams, communications director for the Office of Economic Revitalization.
Williams added the Chamber of Commerce is in the process of reviewing about 70% of the applications and has started awarding grants to those approved. He said 33 grants worth $680,000 have been awarded so far, with an average payout of $20,606.
“The Chamber continues to process applications on a first-come, first-served basis and notify small businesses of awards and denials on a rolling basis,” Williams said. “After all applications have been processed and applicants notified, we can determine if there will be another round.”
For the purposes of this program, Williams said applicants would need to review the complete eligibility information on its website. The program had asked for small businesses to show at least a 25% decline in net income each year in 2020 and 2021 compared with 2019.
Among other criteria, the applicants also needed to show they had between $75,000 and $5 million in 2019 gross annual revenue; be based on Oahu with at least one owner who is a Hawaii resident; be registered and in good standing with the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs; and be current in the filing and payment of all federal, state and city taxes.
But at least one owner of a small business who applied to the program is concerned about the city’s lack of response thus far.
Joe Manolo said his 30-year-old Waialua-based company — which installs new industrial equipment, welds and repairs boilers, pumps and air compressors — is struggling to stay afloat due to the pandemic.
“We had to make loans, use our credit cards and lend our corporation personal monies from our home equity just to stay in business,” Manolo told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser via email. “We had ongoing Honolulu City and County contracts going on all during the pandemic and my workers were deemed essential; our commercial work went to $0 which usually, in normal times, funded our city work.”
During the pandemic, Manolo said his business had eight full-time employees.
“In January of 2022 we went down to four and only have two at this time,” he said. “We made two loans of $50,000, paid one off and still have an outstanding loan of $50,000. Fortunately, we are not in any financial trouble with any banks or lending companies, but am struggling to make ends meet by juggling finances to stay above water.”
Manolo said he applied to the city’s Oahu Business Recovery grant program on its first day.
“On Jan. 30, 2023, I was on my computer as soon as the site opened at 8 a.m. and applied, having all the company files requested uploaded to the site and before 8:30 a.m. was notified by email that my grant was received and submitted and that we would hear something within two weeks after applying or that someone would be in touch if we needed to submit anything else,” Manolo said. “I have heard nothing and twice since applying went online and requested info as to the status of my application and have not received any reply at all.”
Although not immediately familiar with Manolo’s recovery grant application, Williams told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser he would double-check that application’s status.
Meanwhile, Williams said the city is exploring other ways to aid small businesses here.
“Other programs are being developed and we will seek funding for them through either the city’s State and Local Federal Recovery Funds — which are part of the American Rescue Plan Act — or private and federal grant proposals,” he added.
Williams said aid also may come from the Office of Economic Revitalization’s Business and Constituent Educator team. The five-member team, which started in 2020, has helped more than 3,000 small businesses on Oahu, he said.
“They visit local companies and connect them with the many services offered by the city and our nonprofit and other government partners,” he said. “For example, they partnered with the Chinese Chamber of Commerce to visit Chinatown small businesses and let them know about the Oahu Business recovery grants.”
He added the team has also visited operators of small farms and ranches to inform them about the city’s agriculture grants. “The team’s speciality is working with small businesses on Oahu with 10 employees or less; these businesses need the most support in finding resources,” Williams said.
He noted the team is piloting two programs to provide in-person business assistance for local companies every Thursday at Kapolei Hale and the first and second Wednesday of each month at The Hub in Kakaako. Businesses can contact the Business and Constituent Educator team at firstname.lastname@example.org or 808-768-2489, from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, to schedule a consultation.
For more information about the Oahu Business Recovery grant program, contact Chamber of Commerce Hawaii at OahuBizGrant@cochahawaii.org.
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