Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo knows his county is hurting — knows you can add five or so percentage points to the state unemployment number and gets his — knows the small businesses that lace the main streets of the approximately two dozen municipalities are in serious danger of going under.
That’s why he is appropriating $10 million of the county’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act money to award grants to small businesses. That why he’s picking up the tab for the small businesses that can’t afford to pay the $100 fee to get the state ID that is necessary to apply. And that’s why he said he will allocate more money to the program if the $10 million isn’t enough.
“Our county is hurting, and our small businesses are hurting,” he told ROI-NJ. “We’ve got to help them survive until people are comfortable going back to support them. So, when we’re done giving up the grants, if we didn’t have enough, I’ll put in some more money.”
The grant money will be distributed by the state’s Economic Development Authority. Just consider it an add-on to the second phase of the EDA’s Small Business Emergency Grant Program, which began taking applications Tuesday.
Businesses that applied this week will automatically move into the pool of money being allocated to Essex County. Businesses do not have to apply a second time.
The Essex County add-on will work just like the second phase of the EDA program. Business with up to 25 employees can apply — and earn grants up to $10,000, depending on their size. Nearly all small businesses, including nonprofits and business groups, are eligible.
Tim Sullivan, the CEO of the EDA, said his group has made an outreach to all nine of the counties that received CARES Act money, offering to be the distributor. So far, only Essex has taken up the offer, but Sullivan said discussions are taking place with the other counties.
DiVincenzo said the EDA’s ability to handle grant programs made a partnership a no-brainer.
“They have the infrastructure,” he said. “They’ve already done it.”
In addition, it will let DiVincenzo and the county concentrate on other matters, such as mobile COVID-19 testing and food distribution.
“There’s a lot of need out there,” DiVincenzo said.
Especially among small businesses.
“They’re on the edge of just closing down,” he said. “$10,000 is $10,000. Hopefully, it’s going to help them get through it until the people feel enough confidence to return.”
It’s why the county will pick up the cost of obtaining a state ID — and add more money if needed.
“We don’t want anything to get in the way,” DiVincenzo said.
In the coming days, DiVincenzo said the county will do its best to make sure every small business hears about the program.
“Our small business office is reaching out to everyone in their database — all the businesses that we’ve helped in the past,” he said. “And we’re doing outreach on this end, through social media and other media contacts.
“We’re excited about this and want to make sure everyone knows about it.”