Hillsborough expands coronavirus small business aid

TAMPA — Hillsborough County is expanding financial aid to small businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic, including earmarking $22 million for companies that qualified for earlier assistance.

“It’s a protracted coronavirus event. I don’t think anybody knew back months ago when we started the plan we’d still be in this situation,’’ said Lindsey Kimball, Hillsborough County’s economic development director.

The county condensed earlier versions of its assistance program, announced in June and financed through the federal CARES Act, into a single effort that broadens eligibility and makes more dollars available.

Under the expanded effort that began Monday, the county increased awards to up to $40,000 for operating expenses to local small businesses with up to $20 million in annual revenue. An earlier version capped company revenue at $3 million.

The effort, part of the Rapid Response Recovery (R3) program responding to the pandemic, will base aid amounts according to the number of employees at a firm, and it extends eligibility to companies established before Jan. 1, 2020.

To ensure uniform treatment, the county reviewed earlier applications to recalculate the size of the awards under the new, expanded guidelines. As a result, it set aside $22 million in additional grants for those companies.

“We didn’t want anybody who had been approved in those first phases … to be treated unequally,’’ said Kimball. “So we wanted to be sure we were providing them the same benefits.

Related: Businesses in Hillsborough can soon apply for COVID-19 relief grants

As of Aug. 24, the county’s small business assistance program had received nearly 3,600 applications seeking $33 million. The average pay-out has been about $8,500 for a total distribution of just less than $3.75 million. The number of applications being processed stood at 2,746.

Under the new guidelines, awards range from $10,000 for companies with one or two employees, to up to $40,000 for businesses employing at least 21 people.

The county expects to receive up to 5,000 applications under the expanded program, Kimball said. The federal deadline to end the program is Dec. 1.

The county said the effort is a grant award, not a loan and does not require repayment. The money can be spent on any business-related expense, such as employees’ wages, mortgage, rent, vendor invoices, utility bills, payroll and other costs as long as the expenses are not covered by insurance or another federal assistance program.

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