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WATERTOWN — Small businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic can start applying for $10,000 grants from the city Friday.

The city is kicking off a program this week to use $450,000 in CARES Act funds to help local small businesses impacted by the pandemic.

The city is allocating $10,000 grants to each of 45 businesses. To qualify, the businesses must be located in the city, independently owned and not a franchise or corporately owned chain.

Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith thinks the grants will help businesses in the hospitality industry that were closed or were reduced to limited capacity because of the state’s social distancing guidelines.

“Cities usually can’t help businesses like this,” Mayor Smith said.

The City Council on Monday night approved amending the city’s CARES Act program, so it could offer the grants. The city obtained $822,452 in the federal program to put together a program to help those who were hurt by the pandemic.

The city had planned to use another portion of the CARES Act money on infrastructure but council members decided it should help provide relief for businesses that were hit by the pandemic.

The application will be put up on the city’s website on Tuesday but applicants cannot submit one until Friday, said Michael A. Lumbis, the city’s planning and community development director.

Businesses must have been in operation prior to Jan. 1, 2020, must still be open today, have fewer than 25 employees and must retain at least one employee from the grant.

The funding could be used for unpaid working capital expenses such as rent, insurance, utilities and other accounts payable. Businesses will not be able to use the grants for funding payroll, so it would not duplicate the federal Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP.

While planning staff will largely administer the program’s work with the comptroller’s office to oversee distribution of funds, the Watertown Local Development Corporation, also known as the Watertown Trust, will handle taking applications and vetting processes before providing the city with an approval recommendation for each application.

Mayor Smith thanked the city Planning Department and the local development corporation for working on putting the program together.

In July, Congress approved the CARES Act program to help communities get through the pandemic. The Community Development Block Grant funding came from the $2 trillion stimulus package to help municipalities get through the coronavirus crisis.

The $822,582 in CARES Act money is also providing four organizations with $25,000 each for their food pantries and backpack programs. The city has set aside $100,000 for the Salvation Army, Community Action Planning Council, the Urban Mission for food pantries and United Way for its student food backpack program through the city school district. Another $54,476 will be used to establish an employment program through the Anchor Recovery Center.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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