Within weeks, nearly two dozen small businesses in downtown Biddeford could begin receiving grants to help weather the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

The $12,500 grants are part of a new program the city is starting using an extra $250,000 in Community Development Block Grants it received through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“The focus of our program is to help those small businesses that were not helped by federal emergency programs,” said Mathew Eddy, the city’s planning and development director.

Portland and Cumberland County are also planning how to disburse a combined total of more than $2 million in additional funding to programs that help businesses and residents that have been affected by the pandemic.

The money comes from the $5 billion in supplemental CDBG funding approved as part of the CARES Act. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has allocated the first $2 billion to CDBG grantees and $1 billion for Emergency Solutions Grants.

The Community Development Block Grant program provides annual grants to states, cities and counties to provide housing and economic opportunities for low- and moderate-income residents. The Emergency Solutions Grants program is used to get families into permanent housing after experiencing a housing crisis or homelessness.

The additional money provided by the CARES Act is intended to be used for programs to prevent, prepare for and respond to the coronavirus.

Cumberland County received $920,165 in CDBG funds through the CARES Act on top of its annual allocation of $1.5 million. The county plans to disburse that additional money to programs in five target areas: small-business grants and loans, job creation and retention, rental assistance, homelessness prevention and food assistance.

“We’ve really hit upon areas where we’re seeing the greatest need as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said James Gailey, the county manager.

Gailey said the county is now accepting applications from organizations, which will be reviewed by the Municipal Oversight Committee starting May 11. Their recommendations will then go to county commissioners, who are scheduled to vote on May 20 and June 8 on which programs will be funded.

Gailey said the goal is to get money as quickly as possible to programs that help residents and business in the county that are in need because of the pandemic.

Portland received an additional $1.13 million through the CDBG program and nearly $574,000 through the ESG program. City Manager Jon Jennings is working with staff in multiple departments to determine how it will use its additional funding to address the local impacts of the coronavirus.

The funding will be available for city programs and social services agencies in the community that are working in partnership with the city to address the impacts of COVID-19. Jennings anticipates making recommendations on the best use of the funds to the City Council on May 18. The City Council will make the final decisions on how that funding is implemented.

Biddeford received more than $250,000 in CDBG funding beyond the roughly $480,000 it receives from the program annually.

The city is in the middle of setting up an application process for small businesses to apply for the $12,500 grants. Eddy anticipates the program – which he says is being “created out of the air” – will give grants to 20 businesses.

“We really felt there was a need to stabilize Main Street and the mill district,” Eddy said, noting the money has to be used in that area of the city, which is eligible for CDBG funding.

Businesses that receive the grants must be able to show they are helping an employee who makes 80 percent or less of the median income. The program, modeled in part after the Payroll Protection Program, will pay for employee wages, rent or for working capital to keep the business going or to reopen after June 1.

The city will prioritize giving grants first to businesses with up to five employees, then business with five to 20 employees that may have received a PPP loan but have additional financial needs.

Before the money can be given to local businesses, the City Council will have to hold a public hearing and vote on the plan. That is anticipated to happen in the next two weeks.

“We’ll be getting (the grants) out as fast as we can,” Eddy said.

Delilah Poupore, executive director of the Heart of Biddeford, has been meeting virtually with small-business owners for the last several weeks to talk about their needs as they adjust to operating under modified business models or make plans to reopen. Many small businesses downtown opened within the past five years and some have not been able to secure funding through the Payroll Protection Program or other similar funding, she said.

“They are grateful the city is trying to make sure nobody fell through the cracks,” Poupore said.

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