Demmer Calls For Real Small Business Support

When Governor JB Pritzker issued his first stay-at-home order more than two months ago, he told small businesses that assistance was available through the Downstate Small Business Stabilization Program administered by DCEO.

Local governments had to apply to DCEO on behalf of businesses in their jurisdiction who had financial need because of COVID related closures and limitations on business. Many small businesses were unable to apply for a grant because the amount of work required from their city or county was too much of a burden on small local governments.

The City of Dixon chose to participate and was a statewide leader, immediately hosting virtual meetings and establishing an 8-person team to assist small business owners with preparing and submitting an 80-100 page application for each business. The City was required to post notice and hold several public meetings to take a City Council vote to support each individual application. Altogether, the City team spent more than 500 hours to prepare, approve, and submit 52 applications on behalf of local businesses.

During this time, DCEO posted initial guidance and criteria, hosted a webinar to explain the program and answer questions, and revised their guidance and criteria more than once. Many applicants in Dixon had already done considerable work to apply for the grant when the rules changed mid-stream. I also contacted DCEO multiple times to try and streamline the application process so more small counties and cities could apply. After being told by DCEO that much of the red-tape was due to federal requirements, I worked through Congressman Adam Kinzinger’s office and contacted officials within the US Department of Housing and Urban Development who oversaw the grant program and got them to agree to waive certain requirements.

In Dixon alone, 52 small businesses chose to apply for a grant to help stabilize their businesses which were greatly impacted by COVID and the stay-at-home order. Many of these same applicants were also forced to wait more than 7 weeks to even be able to apply for unemployment insurance through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. Some have still not received unemployment benefits. All through that time, after having been among the first to submit their thorough application for a Downstate Small Business Stabilization Grant, they waited to receive this emergency assistance from DCEO. 

Now, more than two months after the stay-at-home order began, the City of Dixon was notified that just 4 of the 52 applications were approved by DCEO. Even though sole proprietors were originally said to be eligible, several Dixon applications were denied simply because “no employees.” Others were denied because they had “negative cash flow” in previous years — precisely the kind of business that you would think needs stabilization during a pandemic. Other businesses were denied because they had “insufficient length of business operation” — again, a fledgling local business would typically be exactly the kind of business you’d want to support when a statewide emergency strikes. Other businesses were denied for their entire grant request with a note that they received other assistance, despite the fact that DCEO guidance explicitly states that application for CARES or other assistance does not impact their ability to qualify for downstate stabilization grants.

Furthermore, many of these denial notes carry dates of late April or early May, meaning DCEO reviewed these applications more than a month ago and made small business owners wait in vain until June only to find out that the financial assistance they hoped for would not be coming.

Now, on June 5, the Pritzker administration has announced that just $1.3 million of the original $20 million has been awarded, and that only 65 businesses in the entire state will receive a grant.

I strongly urge the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the Pritzker administration to reconsider these grant applications and truly support small businesses in Dixon and throughout downstate Illinois.