City officials continue to struggle with their task of giving away state funds aimed at helping struggling business owners through COVID-19.
The Vincennes Revolving Loan Fund Committee on Wednesday morning met and approved another five applications from area businesses; those applications totaled $14,000, bringing the total given out so far in mini-grants to $96,000.
They have an eye-opening $154,000 left to spend.
“And I don’t know if we’re going to get more applications,” said Mayor Joe Yochum, also a member of the RLF committee, in exasperation.
“So what do we do? Do we allow those who have already applied to apply again?”
Vincennes and Knox County in May each received a $250,000 grant from the state Office of Community and Rural Affairs’ now revamped Community Development Block Grant Program, money meant for businesses struggling after the COVID-19 shutdown stifled their revenue.
Depending on the number of employees a business has, it can be eligible for anywhere from $2,000 up to $10,000 under the city’s program.
The county set up a slightly different system, one with only two payment tiers; businesses with fewer than 25 employees are eligible for $5,000. Those with more can get $10,000.
Both the city and the county have been working with the Loogootee-based Southern Indiana Development Commission in taking applications and awarding the mini-grants.
The city RLF committee looked to SIDC’s Matt Sward again on Wednesday as they struggle to spend the money they have left.
RLF member Craig Kirk called the whole process “a little disappointing.”
“We have $154,000 still out there and yet we can’t get enough interest from people,” he said.
Sward said OCRA, too, has been surprised by the lack of interest in the mini-grants in some Hoosier communities. The process, perhaps, was rushed, Sward said, and business owners didn’t quite understand what they were getting into.
Many, too, thought free money simply too good to be true while others were scared off by what they thought was a complicated application process or providing financial details of their business.
Or, perhaps, Sward said, the state overestimated the need.
Regardless, Sward has worked to help simplify the process both for the government entities trying to give their share of the money away and for business owners confused about the process. It’s really not all that complicated, he says, and financial information is kept completely confidential, just as it would be in a traditional loan process at a financial institution.
But there are other options, too, he said.
OCRA left it up to the individual communities as to how they wanted to divvy out the money.
Some, Sward said, simply took one round of applicants and divided the $250,000 between them, although he applauded both the city and county’s decision to select a tiered approach, thereby distributing the money more evenly.
That said, the city can change its approach this late in the game, he said; they can change the tiers, thereby increasing the amount awarded per employee.
The city, too, Sward said, could invite businesses that have already applied to come back for more money, even if it’s only closing the gap between what they got the first time verses what they would get if the tiered system was changed.
And they wouldn’t have to go through the application process all over again.
“I reached out to OCRA just to be sure, and they said, ‘We have no issue with Vincennes changing their tiers. Please move forward,’ ” Sward told the committee.
But Cheryl Hacker, assistant to Mayor Joe Yochum, said she did have a few other first-time applicants hanging in the balance.
“I had a few more pick up applications last week,” Hacker told the committee. “But those haven’t been returned yet.”
Committee member Greg Cardinal suggested they do one more round — a fourth — and then look at either changing the tiered system or encouraging previous applicants to apply again.
“I say we give it another month, though,” he said. “See what happens.”
And the city does have time, Sward said.
Initially, OCRA wanted the money spent in just six months. Now, he said, the money must spent by May 2021.
And he encouraged any business owner out there with concerns or questions to contact Hacker at 812-882-7285 for help.
“This money is here to help businesses,” Sward said matter-of-factly. “So if you have questions or concerns, contact someone. Explain why you’re not putting something out there.
“Let us help you.”
The county commissioners are still accepting applications as part of a third round, Sward said Wednesday.
Last month, they approved nine applications totaling gifts of nearly $40,000. Like the city, they’ve awarded about $100,000 so far.
During the first round, they awarded 11 applications for a total of $57,000.
Per state guidelines, though, more than half — or 51% — of the applicants’ collective employees need to meet federal low-to-moderate income guidelines.
The city has been able to remain under that threshold with no trouble while the county, Sward has said, his hovering pretty close to it.
For more information on the county’s process, see the application on the county’s website at www.knoxcounty.in.gov.