One year after applying, Virginia small businesses still waiting for COVID relief grants

Capitol Connection

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — More than one year after applying, many small businesses are still waiting on coronavirus relief funding from a state grant program. For thousands, the wait is far from over.

The Rebuild Virginia Grant Fund was replenished by the General Assembly during a special session in August when lawmakers allocated an additional $250 million . At the time, the program’s funding had run out with more than 9,000 applications remaining in the queue. Lawmakers expected the new investment would be enough to meet that need with some left over for new applicants.  

In a phone interview on Monday, Rebuild Virginia’s Grant Application Manager Amy Brannan said about $20.25 million– less than 10% of the latest round of funding–had been distributed to 407 businesses. She said they received the funding in September and it took them until mid-October to fully staff application review positions that had previously been dissolved.

Currently, the state is reviewing applications that were submitted on or before Nov. 3, 2020, according to the program’s website. 

Brannan estimated it would take between six to ten months for staff to work through the remaining backlog of about 8,000 businesses. However, she said the existing pot of funding “is likely not going to cover all the remaining applicants.” 

Brannan said they have suggested an additional investment of $200 million dollars. She expects that would be enough to clear the current pipeline and reopen the application portal for new submissions. 

In an interview on Monday, Gov. Ralph Northam didn’t commit to a specific dollar amount but said an additional investment would be included in his two-year budget proposal. 

“There is still demand and obviously in our outgoing budget we will propose more money for the Rebuild Virginia program and I suspect that the legislature will follow that lead,” Northam said. 

Chris Tsui is the president of EAT Restaurant Partners, which oversees 13 restaurants in Greater Richmond. 

More than a year after applying, Tsui said several of their locations are still waiting on Rebuild Virginia applications to be reviewed. 

“We were just holding our breath and then unfortunately the funds ran out and we weren’t able to receive any of it,” Tsui said. 

Tsui said, while they received some federal funding from the Paycheck Protection Program, they also didn’t get any direct aid from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which ran out of money as well.

Meanwhile, Tsui said some of their businesses are continuing to lose money as the cost of labor, food and supplies increases.

Moving forward, Tsui is urging the General Assembly to prioritize the restaurant and hospitality industries with a more targeted approach. 

“I think we were the hardest hit during the pandemic,” Tsui said. “Lawmakers should understand that the restaurant and hospitality industry is still in crisis mode.” 

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