In September, city and county leaders got good news regarding economic stimulus funds for small businesses.
A request for money from an available state CARES Act fund of more than $49 million for small-business grants brought both the city and the county of Santa Fe, along with the town of Edgewood, almost $3.8 million.
Businesses struggling to survive the COVID-19 pandemic can use the money for a number of purposes, including paying rent, purchasing personal protective gear for employees and renovating for the pandemic world — e.g., a restaurant building an outdoor eating area with space heaters.
But as of Thursday, more than $3 million remains in the combined fund. With a Dec. 30 deadline looming, city and county experts are encouraging business owners to apply.
“It’s money still on the table,” said Alex Fitzgerald, an economic development specialist with Santa Fe County. “Our message is: We want to help you over the finish line.”
To date, the local business CARES Act program — just one part of an overall federal CARES Act stimulus package to help the nation recover from the financial distress brought on by the pandemic — has awarded 33 grants for a total of about $500,000, Fitzgerald said.
Businesses can receive up to $15,000 per grant.
He thinks local small businesses and nonprofits that are eligible for the funds may not know about the grants or are uncertain about how to apply. He said he and his staff will work with businesses to walk them through the process.
The three governmental entities currently have about 60 more grant applications to review, he said.
Statewide, the situation is not much different, said Henry Valdez, a spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration. Only about $13 million — or some 26 percent — of the local business grant funds had been used as of Friday, he said.
“We are surprised at the slow drip of reimbursement requests made so far,” Varela said.
He said he could not speak to why some cities, counties and municipalities are seeing low demand for the grant, though he said he heard that some are having a hard time encouraging people to apply.
“We are pretty optimistic it’s going to up in the coming weeks,” he added.
Elizabeth Camacho, economic development and communications adviser for the city, said $15,000 can help keep a business or nonprofit afloat during the pandemic.
“When you are talking about having to close down your gym and you have the opportunity to cover your mortgage or rent during the pandemic, at least some of the costs can be covered when you do not have a steady stream of incoming money,” she said.
Andre Wiltenburg, owner of Santa Fe Climbing Center, said the $15,000 grant he received through the program is “helping me stay afloat during this time.”
He said he can use the money to keep his 10 employees on payroll as revised health restrictions from the state force the closure of the business.
The grant, Wiltenburg said, “definitely makes a big difference to keep those employees paid.”
Eligible businesses and nonprofits must meet certain criteria, Fitzgerald and Camacho said. Their annual revenue must be under $2 million, they must have documentation to prove they have lost at least 25 percent in revenue in fiscal year 2019 and they cannot employ more than 50 people, among other requirements.
Fitzgerald said officials are moving through the grant applications as expeditiously as possible.
“We’re getting money out quickly, but time is very much an issue,” he said.