Wednesday is the last day to apply for a pandemic relief program providing up to $250,000 in aid to Arkansas business in the personal care, tourism, travel and hospitality industries.
The deadline is for the Business Interruption Grant program announced in October. More than 1,000 applications had been submitted as of Monday morning, according to Melissa Whitfield, spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.
The program is overseen by that department, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration. The grants from a $50 million fund will be awarded on a prorated basis depending on how many businesses apply and what their requests are. The state expects the grants to be awarded next month.
The program, funded by the state's share of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided by Congress, comes as many industry leaders have grown frustrated, stuck without much further aid and facing persistent COVID-19-related restrictions.
One applicant, Gary Patel, owner of the Super 8 by Wyndham in Searcy, told Arkansas Business his annual revenue is already short by $50,000-$60,000 compared to last year’s because of continued low occupancy.
In applying for a grant, “My whole goal is to keep our employees and keep my door open,” he said. He added that making mortgage payments will be a struggle without the help this program promises.
Patel also said businesses like his were hoping for better timing; they had wanted to use any aid received to pay property taxes that were due Oct. 15.
He said, “I'm just kind of worried about how many, particularly in the hotel industry, I don't know how many hotels have not paid their property tax because they just don't have a reserve fund or because they all used the reserve funds” in the early days of the outbreak, from April-June.
In addition, Patel pointed out, hotels lack restaurants’ ability to make some money from takeout and curbside services. Empty hotel rooms generate no revenue.
“And I think our industry will be the last to recover,” Patel said. “I think that we're going to be the last to recover of anyone.”
Another applicant, Rob Byford, owner and developer of the Library Kitchen and Lounge in Little Rock, is concerned that the $50 million won’t go very far, with perhaps thousands applying for the grants.
He, too, said the program’s timing could have been better. “[There was] a period of time when we thought that there would have been more relief by the end of October from the federal government,” Byford said. “I would have never thought we would be making it through the end of the year without any additional assistance, and still being mandated to close and have restrictions and [be expected] to run profitable businesses or even businesses at all, really, I mean it doesn't add up and it never will.”
He’ll use any grant money he receives for debt, payroll, utilities and rent, he said. “It's a matter of staying alive.”