Greenville County Provides Small Business Relief Under $ 91 Million Federal COVID-19 Grant

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Greenville County has received a slew of money from the federal government to help alleviate COVID-19 – $ 91,354,041.70, to be exact – and now faces the welcome, but daunting, challenge of figuring out how to spend it. before December 31.

The money came via wire transfer from the U.S. Treasury about a week ago, County Council Chairman Butch Kirven said. It was about a week after the county learned from a announcement on the treasury website that Greenville County was the only political subdivision in the state, with more than 500,000 residents, to receive local aid in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Asked what the county plans to do with the money on Friday, Kirven said council members will vote on a plan in the coming weeks, but consensus is already emerging that small companies get most of the money.

$ 91 million is almost half of the county’s operating budget for a year.

“It’s such a monumental trauma to our community, all,” Kirven said. “And you know the first thing is, ‘Wow, how can we help with $ 91 million?'”

Federal Rules Mandate that the money be spent on direct expenses related to COVID-19 at the local level as well as “expenses incurred to respond to the second-order effects of the emergency, such as by provide economic support to those suffering from job or activity disruptions due to business closures related to COVID-19. “

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This week, council members met in small groups with county administrator Joe Kernell to discuss options and priorities, Councilor Lynn Ballard said.

“Of course, all that money has to be looked at under a microscope and you have to have documentation all the way through because if you spend it incorrectly, you have to pay it back,” Ballard said.

A special meeting is expected to be held to discuss the $ 91 million COVID relief plan in the next week or two, Kirven said.

The vast majority of employers in Greenville County employ fewer than 20 people, according to data from the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce.  Combined with those employing 20 to 49 people, these smaller entities represent 93% of businesses in Greenville County.  In addition, companies with fewer than 50 people employ more than a third of the department's workforce (102.00 people).

In light of the comments so far, Kirven said council members want the money spent on economic assistance to small businesses in the county that have not otherwise received any federal assistance, either through the Small Business Administration’s popular Paycheck Protection Program or the Small Business Administration’s Economic Disaster Loan Program.

Ballard said the county has more flexibility on what a “small business” is and will likely focus on very small businesses, the ones that are least likely to have received forgivable loans in the first or second round. of the PPP.

The Small Business Administration has said that any entity with fewer than 500 employees is eligible to apply for a PPP loan.

In Greenville County, about 15,400 employers out of the county’s 15,450 employers were eligible to apply for a small business loan, according to figures from the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce.

Of these 15,400 eligible employers, nearly 13,000 have fewer than 20 employees.

“I think we as a county want to focus a lot more on the Little Moms and Main Street pop-ups than a company with 150 or 200 employees,” Ballard said. “If they’re in that size of business, they’ve probably already received reimbursement money.”

The need is still great.

Just about 20% of 885 small businesses randomly surveyed across the country on April 17 were able to secure a PPP loan in the $ 350 billion first round of the PPP, according to a report by the National Federation of Independent Businesses. A $ 320 billion second round of PPP funding nearly doubled the size of the program, but likely left many companies behind.

The banks that The Greenville News talked with last month stated that they only serve existing customers for PPP loans. City Councilor Ennis Fant said this approach has been particularly difficult for small, unbanked businesses and small businesses that deal with huge institutions such as Wells Fargo, which initially served its biggest customers, according to the reports. reports.

“All they’ve done is make sure their existing business relationships get the money so they have the money to keep paying the outstanding loans with this bank,” Fant said. . “The biggest mistake they made was pulling the government out of it. All they did was make sure their elitist business relationship was served. The little guy who isn’t banked got nothing. “

Kirven said that while the vast majority of federal CARES law money coming to Greenville County would likely flow through small business grants, the scope of the money is limited. Taking only employers with fewer than 20 workers, allowances to each company would rise to around $ 7,000 if the county used $ 90 million of federal money just for business grants.

However, it has not yet been decided how much the county council will allocate to small businesses.

The County Council also wants to help Greenville County:

  • cities
  • special purpose neighborhoods (fire and sewer services)
  • library system
  • Arena district (Bon Secours wellness center)
  • homeless population
  • housing assistance agencies
  • mental health and addiction agencies, and
  • public transport

The county, for its part, has spent perhaps $ 100,000 or less on direct COVID-19 response spending such as personal protective equipment, cleaning services, testing for first responders, and laptops for key staff working from home, Kirven said. These costs will be reimbursed by the county, leaving a lot of money for these other entities.

To keep the process fair for the small business portion of the allocation, Kirven said, the board will likely look to a local bank to administer the funds.

People walk down Main Street in downtown Greenville on Wednesday April 22, 2020.

“The county council doesn’t want to be in a position to pick the so-called winners and losers, where you’re doing well and you’re not,” Kirven said. “We want some kind of independent administration on this, and that’s why we’re probably looking at local banks to do it.”

He said a fixed amount of funds would also be set aside for minority-owned businesses, which a report from the Center for Responsible Lending found were largely excluded from the PPP. This is due to banks’ preference for lending to existing customers and lending to larger employers, according to the report.

“Communities of color are already suffering the hardest impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, with higher levels of job loss and illness,” the report said. “They must receive their fair share of COVID-19 relief and recovery. “

Anna B. Mitchell covers growth and local government in Greenville County. You can follow her on Twitter @ AnnaBard2U and on Facebook.

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