COVID-19 grants and how they apply to your business

by Rebekah King
| June 24, 2020 1:00 AM

What does a chamber of commerce do? It is a frequently asked question with an answer that changes day to day, business to business. The most fundamental function of the Bigfork Area Chamber of Commerce is supporting our business community. Recently, that has included reaching out to our members, reminding them of some important information they — and you — may have missed.

The last few months have brought an overwhelming amount of information. Much of my job has been to disseminate what is relevant to our business community. This has included health department updates, governor directives and free money. Now, chances are when you hear someone talk about “free money,” it is a scam. Whether it is a Nigerian prince or a widowed millionaire, money is never free … unless it is a small business grant.

The State of Montana currently has just that in its Coronavirus Relief Fund. These grants are emergency financial relief packages for businesses and individuals who have been impacted by COVID-19.

Of the $1.25 billion dollars available, only $29 million has been awarded, and only a pittance of that money went to Bigfork businesses. So, what the Bigfork Chamber is doing right now is encouraging our members to apply. This is truly free money to help small businesses, nonprofits and families. There are currently 12 different programs available. Specific information can be found at www.commerce.mt.gov/Coronavirus-Relief. Here is what I want our members and community to know:

The Montana Business Stabilization Grant Program provides up to $10,000 for payroll, rent, A/P, and other expenses for businesses with less than 50 employees.

The Montana Business Adaptation Program will provide reimbursement for COVID-19 expenses related to keeping staff and customers safe – from the purchase of personal protective equipment to resources needed for staff to work remotely. Grants are awarded up to $5,000 to businesses and nonprofits that employ fewer than 50 people.

The Emergency Housing Assistance Program will assist with rent and mortgage payments for households that have suffered a substantial loss of income related to COVID-19.

The Social Services Nonprofit Grants are up to $10,000 for impacted nonprofits to retain existing programs and services, employees or organizational viability.

The Montana Loan Deferment Program, working with Montana financial institutions, allows an existing commercial borrower to defer principal and interest payments on for six to 12 months.

The thought of applying for a grant may be daunting. Many people who applied for grants early on were frustrated with lagging websites and funds that ran out within hours. There is also the question of whether you will qualify for the money. All I can say is the funds are there, the application process is simple and there are very few organizations in our community who have been unscathed by COVID-19.

If you are a member of the Bigfork Area Chamber of Commerce, or if you are not, we are happy to help how we can. That includes walking through the application process with you because we know the vitality of Bigfork depends on our vibrant business community.

With the reopening and the onset of summer, much of the pressure we were all feeling is lifting but none of us know what the next month or year will bring. I am certain that the answer to “What does a Chamber of Commerce do?” will be much different than it was today – but today, it was telling the local coffee shop, with their newly installed plexiglass barriers, about the Montana Adaptation Grant. ■