As small businesses across Boston hunker down for what is threatening to be a tough winter during a protracted pandemic, Mayor Martin J. Walsh is establishing three new city-managed funds to help them survive until the spring.
The three funds will distribute more than $6 million, in total. One will offer rent relief, the second grants to minority-, woman- and veteran-owned businesses, and the third to help restaurants. This money is coming from the federal CARES Act, the recovery bill that Congress passed in March.
Walsh said he is increasingly worried as the numbers of darkened storefronts add up in Boston. He fears it could take a few years for some of the spaces to reopen. He is hopeful the grants help allow businesses that are still enduring to stay open long enough for the COVID-19 pandemic to subside.
“We’re concerned about our small businesses,” Walsh said. “If you add them all up, they’re the backbone of our economy. Since the pandemic began, we’ve tried to do whatever we can [to help them]."
The new funds are in addition to two other small-business relief programs the Walsh administration established early in the pandemic. The city has distributed nearly $6.7 million from its Small Business Relief Fund to more than 1,800 small businesses suffering from a downturn in revenue because of the pandemic. And nearly $2.7 million went out in the form of grants through the Reopen Boston Fund, to help nearly 1,500 small businesses with reopening costs, such as buying personal protective equipment and outdoor dining accessories. The federal government was also the primary source for these funds.
Businesses can only apply to one of the three new programs; beneficiaries of the earlier programs are not precluded from applying to one of the new funds.
The Commercial Rent Relief Fund (starting with $3.5 million) will provide up to $15,000 in rent relief to small businesses, with the consent of their landlords, for any time between April and December. Priority will be given to businesses that are still closed due to coronavirus restrictions, as well as those in industries hardest hit by COVID-19.
The Certified Business Relief Fund ($2.5 million) will provide grants of up to $15,000 to businesses currently certified by the city as woman-, minority- or veteran-owned.
The High Road Kitchens Relief Fund ($375,000), developed in partnership with the One Fair Wage campaign and city councilor Lydia Edwards' office, will provide $15,000 grants to full-service restaurants that commit to full-wage parity for tipped and non-tipped employees by 2026. The businesses can use this money for rent, as well as for payroll. One Fair Wage is expected to provide additional $5,000 grants to eligible restaurants that meet all of the program’s requirements.
The city will start accepting applications for all three funds on Monday, and continue to accept them for one week. City officials are also providing webinars via Zoom on Monday to answer questions.