As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take a toll on California’s small businesses, the state has dedicated more than $2 billion for grants to help keep them afloat.
All roads to those $5,000-$25,000 grants go through Lendistry, the sole intermediary between the state and the business community. At a telebriefing co hosted by EMS and California Black Media, Everett Sands, Lendistry’s founder and CEO, described what’s new and different about the California Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Program.
“No one expected us to have 344,000 applications in the first 15 days,” he recalled, looking back at the Dec. 30, 2020, inception of what was then a $500 million program.
Since then, the state has raised the funding total to more than $2 billion, distributed in six rounds, including one targeting nonprofit cultural institutions only. The sixth and final round opens April 28 and will close May 4, with grants to be announced May 7.
“Hats off to the governor and the state and the Cal OSBA (Office of the Small Business Advocate) for seeing the need,” he said. “California is actually setting a tone that I guarantee you we’ll see other states follow in upcoming months with the American Rescue bill.”
“It’s a grant, not a loan,” Sands emphasized. “The first thing to do is just apply. I can’t stress that more.”
Applications can be initiated here (https://careliefgrant.com/) in any of 18 languages. The program is open to both for-profit and non-profit businesses. Sands reiterated that simply opening up an application is the most important step in the process for COVID-19-impacted small businesses seeking some financial help.
“You don’t have to get wrapped up in the paperwork. Lendistry will provide support. Just apply. Because applying is the opportunity to get selected.” Lendistry has been approving between 3,000 and 5,000 applications per day, he said.
Once an application is on file, Lendistry representatives and partners will help businesses complete them, even after the deadline to apply has passed.
“That’s not normal,” Sands admitted. But, he said, “the spirit of this program is to try to help those who were unable to get into larger programs that might have been more conducive to bigger companies,” possibly because they’re more adept at and accustomed to working with traditional financial institutions.
Furthermore, unlike the federal Paycheck Protection Program, the funds will not be simply distributed “first-come-first-serve” as applications arrive.
“We decided to make sure that we gave everybody a chance,” he said. Of the five rounds of financing now completed, two were only open to those companies that had been wait-listed in an earlier round. The upcoming one is also open to new applicants.
Lendistry is working with more than 100 partner organizations, located in all 58 California counties, to help facilitate the application process.
In Fresno County alone, for example, there are 16 potential partners an applicant can work with. Among them are the American Indian Chamber of Commerce, ASIAN Inc., the Asian Business Institute and Resource Center, the Black Small Business Association of California, California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, CA Women’s Business Center, the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce & Chamber Foundation, the Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation and eight more.
“We’re all here to help provide access to the program,” another panelist, Lamar Heystek, president of ASIAN, Inc., one of those partners, explained.
“First-come, first serve does not work for the neediest of our businesses, and that is not how we determine eligibility,” he said.
He touted the five or six explanatory videos each offered in eight different languages on the Lendistry website: https://careliefgrant.com/videos-on-demand/ and provided his and ASIAN Inc.’s email addresses (firstname.lastname@example.org and CAreliefgrant@asianinc.org) for further support.
Hestek and Sands pointed out that the California Relief Grants Program has the potential to help businesses with costs that the federal Paycheck Protection Program would not.
“These funds are not so restrictive that you couldn’t use them toward the normal course of business,” Hestek said, citing as examples instance, insurance, taxes, inventory or maintenance costs.
“The most impacted businesses are going to get that money first,” Julian Canete of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said, another of Lendistry’s partners. “It’s based on need.”
“We’ve really been concentrating on businesses that may fall through the cracks, those real small businesses, those micro-businesses who think they may not qualify.”
“What we don’t need to do is put businesses further in debt,” he said, reflecting on the decision to make the Relief Grant Program not loans, but grants or forgivable loans.
Pleshette Robertson, CEO of Sac Cultural Hub and a recipient of one of the grants, expressed her appreciation of the relative simplicity of the application process. She used the Sac Cultural Hub’s grant to make payroll and lease payments.
“The grant has really served its purpose and continues to serve its purpose,” she said.