Dane County is partnering with Dane Buy Local to fund a local-level grant program, providing small businesses with needed financial relief during the pandemic.

In early April, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced the launch of the Small Business Pandemic Support Grant program in a press release. The grants will help businesses survive the COVID-19 public health crisis since many businesses were forced to close their doors, Parisi said. 

To administer the program with funds provided by the county, Parisi said the county chose to partner with Dane Buy Local. While some federal and state relief plans are in the works, Parisi said many businesses are looking for funds right now to keep them afloat.

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“It became evident early on in the crisis, particularly when the Safer at Home guidelines went into effect, that local businesses — many of them — were going to suffer greatly,” Parisi said. “While there is some assistance coming through on the federal level and hopefully at the state level, that’s still in the pipeline and we don’t know how many folks that’s going to get to, so we wanted to do what we could locally to help as much as possible in the interim.”

Chair of the Dane County Board of Supervisors Analiese Eicher said Dane Buy Local is a trusted partner with established relationships across the business community. While Dane County has the funds, Dane Buy Local has the staff and the bandwidth to make the program possible, Parisi said.

Dane County will use revolving loan funds to support the grant program, according to Eicher. The program launched with $250,000 in funds to help businesses cover their fixed costs in order to help them from having to close their doors permanently, Parisi said. 

“Our main goal is just to throw them a lifeline to help them survive,” Parisi said. “We will come to the point when we are past this crisis eventually, but in the meantime, many businesses are on the edge of survival…. So once it’s over, [the goal is] they are at least somewhat intact so they can restart and begin to grow their businesses again.”

Though, in the first week, the Dane Buy Local received over 800 applications, prompting the county to up the funds allocated to $800,000, according to Eicher and Parisi. The overwhelming community response led the county board and Parisi to increase the original funds by $550,000, a quick turnout Parisi said was possible due to the localized nature of the program. 

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Dane Buy Local Executive Director Colin Murray said over 1,500 total applications flooded in since the program launched. Small businesses can apply through a Google Form on their website, Murray said. From there, a committee at Dane Buy Local will consider all the applications and establish how much is going to each applicant, Murray said. 

“[The county] has been making the point to us that they want to keep this process fairly easy because a lot of these small businesses are very small operations,” Murray said. “They want to keep it simple, and they want to get the cash in the hands of those who desperately need it.”

To qualify for the program, the small business must employ 55 people or less and must be located in Dane County, according to Murray. Additionally, Murray said the county is highly interested in supporting business owners of color in the area who may be getting hit hard during these times. 

While the funds increased and the program runs until June 15, Murray said businesses should submit their requests as early as possible since there will not be enough funds to help every business. Murray said the way the county launched the program shows how strongly they want to help support these businesses by getting the funds to businesses as quickly as possible.

“They’re doing everything in their power to keep things moving fast, keep it as simple and as smooth as possible at points,” Murray said. “To be quite honest, they have actually been moving faster than we can respond at Dane Buy Local, which is a great problem to have.”

Dane County and Dane Buy Local are both looking for other resources and avenues to support businesses during this time, according to Eicher and Murray. Murray said the recently rolled out federal Payroll Protection Program will help businesses continue to pay their employees during this time so they do not have to lay off workers. 

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The PPP is one resource among other government programs Dane Buy Local is looking to integrate into its work so they can use the grants for other costs businesses are facing such as mortgage payments, leases and utilities, Murray said. Even as the grant checks come out, Parisi said the community’s support of small businesses will remain crucial to keeping businesses alive.  

“The curve has not peaked yet, we’re still a long ways away from the end of this,” Parisi said. “When we do get on the other side of this and we’re able to get back to whatever the new normal is, we need to continue to be mindful of the small businesses and the huge number of employees who have been impacted by this and continue to look at doing whatever we can to help them out.”