Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) today announced the first round of grants awarded as part of the new Downstate Small Business Stabilization Program, just over a month after the program was launched. The fund was created to support small businesses in downstate and rural counties across Illinois that have experienced a negative impact due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The first $1.3 million in grants have been allocated to 65 businesses spanning 28 downstate communities. To support small businesses in downstate and rural counties across Illinois, DCEO repurposed $20 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to create the Downstate Small Business Stabilization Program. Through the program, small businesses of up to 50 employees can partner with their local governments to obtain grants of up to $25,000 in working capital. Grantees include restaurants and cafes, salons, furniture stores, florists, pet stores and other specialty retail stores. Many of the grantees are multi-generation family-owned and operated proprietors. For a full list of grant recipients, visit DCEO’s website. Grants will be offered on an on-going basis, with funding made available to small businesses with operations impacted by COVID-19 and where the business has a demonstrated financial need, a commitment to retaining employees, and an analysis of how working capital can support short- and long-term liabilities. All funds must be used exclusively for working capital costs – including but not limited to salaries, wages, rent, utilities and other overhead costs associated with running the business. The Downstate fund represents a creative solution for addressing the distinct needs of smaller downstate communities, who do not receive a direct allocation of CDBG funds. All funding will be prioritized for businesses in small rural communities, including those forced to temporarily close or adapt operations significantly due to the ongoing pandemic. While funding will directly benefit small businesses, applications must be submitted by a unit of local government, such as cities, villages, and counties. Based on criteria including demonstration of project need, financial feasibility, and job retention, DCEO awards grants to the applying local government who then administer the grants to businesses. Specifically, Coles County has submitted applications on behalf of 21 businesses which employ 213 people in the county. Upon execution of the grant, DCEO will release 25 percent of the funding to the business. DCEO estimates businesses will receive money within 10 days of their application being approved. Businesses are required to apply to DCEO to receive the remainder of the funds. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pritzker administration has put in place a menu of new programming and policies geared toward residents and communities hit hardest by the virus – including small businesses. Over the past several weeks, the administration has launched nearly $100 million in small business relief and assistance programs – including the Downstate Small Business Stabilization Program, the Emergency Small Business Loan Fund, the Emergency Hospitality Grant Program, and more. The application for the downstate small business fund remains open. For more on how to apply for the grants, please visit DCEO’s page at: https://bit.ly/2QLY8MH.