City to help businesses hurt by COVID

Watertown City Hall. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — The city is about to kick off a program to use $450,000 in CARES Act funds to help local small businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city plans to allocate $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 small businesses will be lining up to obtain the funding.

“Lot of people were hit hard by the pandemic, especially in the hospitality industry,” Mayor Smith said. “A number of restaurants and bars had limited seating and limited hours.”

The City Council is expected to vote on June 21 to amend the city’s CARES Act program, which includes the grants to small businesses. 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 the next day but applicants cannot submit one until June 25, said Michael A. Lumbis, the city’s planning and community development director.

While applications cannot be submitted until June 25, it’ll be a first-come-first-served basis, he said.

This will allow “everybody an equal opportunity to get ready,” the mayor said.

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 would not be able to use the grants for funding payroll, so it would not duplicate the federal Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, Mr. Lumbis said.

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

In July, Congress approved the CARES Act program to help communities get through the ongoing COVID-19 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.

On Monday night, the council held a public hearing on the changes to its CARES Act program. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development must still OK the changes.

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