Dane County could further support small businesses struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic with $4 million in additional grant funding, under a proposal county Executive Joe Parisi announced Tuesday.
The funding, which would need to be approved by the County Board, would go to the Small Business Pandemic Support Grant program to award businesses up to $50,000 for expenses including payroll, rent and other related costs. Administered by Dane Buy Local, the program has already distributed more than $10 million to Dane County businesses since the initial Wisconsin shutdown order in March.
The funds are intended to support businesses hardest hit by last fall’s surge in COVID-19 cases in the state, which led public health officials to tighten restrictions on gatherings. Businesses such as retailers, restaurants, fitness studios and service providers will be given priority, Parisi said.
Dane Buy Local executive director Colin Murray said the funding shows the county’s commitment to helping businesses that are struggling through no fault of their own.
“They recognize that it’s a very difficult time and how important it is for the small businesses to remain open and to be viable once we get past the pandemic,” Murray said.
Kula Yoga and Wellness, which accepted a grant last year, wouldn’t have been able to stay open without the funding, owner Becky Petersen said. The Cottage Grove-based studio needed to shift from fully in-person to fully online as public health departments guided such businesses to close their doors.
Petersen used the funds to pay for rent and utilities at her studio and to buy equipment to move classes online.
“Beyond the monetary support this grant provided, being seen, being heard as a struggling small business was a real morale booster,” Petersen said. “I needed to continue to fight and to get creative to shift my business in a way that allowed me to continue offering my services in a safe and effective way.”
Parisi blamed the dire economic circumstances for small businesses on what he called a lack of comprehensive federal action relating to public health guidance and economic assistance. The $4 million in grant funding, he said, will only be able to provide short-term relief until the federal government passes further relief plans.
“Recent federal action is a step in the right direction. It’s hopeful, but it’s clearly not enough,” Parisi said. “Our small businesses continue to struggle, and they need our help now.”
Last year, the county gave the program $800,000 from its own funds and $10 million awarded to the county through the federal CARES Act. The additional $4 million proposed would come from CARES Act funding the county had not yet spent by the end of 2020, Parisi said.