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Harris County approves new $30M small-business recovery program using federal funds

August 10, 2021

Harris County leaders just approved a new small business relief fund using money from the American Rescue Plan Act.

The $30 million relief fund is aimed at supporting small and micro-businesses in Harris County that have been financially impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, citing a U.S. Census Bureau survey, said that Harris County small business revenue is down 38% since January 2020.

Hidalgo and and Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia laid out the proposal for the Harris County Small Business Recovery Fund during a press conference Aug. 10. The $30 million grant program will disburse awards of between $5,000 and $25,000 to up to 2,000 Harris County businesses.

San Antonio-based community lender LiftFund was selected to administer the county program. Applicants will be selected randomly to receive grants, but applying businesses will be assigned a score based on need, Hidalgo said. The criteria will include priority for "businesses and business owners in vulnerable areas, for minority- and women-owned businesses and other designated priority categories," Hidalgo said.

"If approved at commissioners court — and I hope my colleagues will support me in this — the funds will be available to small businesses for things they need not just to survive, but to grow, to thrive," Hidalgo said. "Think paying workers, paying suppliers, paying the mortgage or rent for their businesses."

The $32.06 million measure, which includes $30 million for small business grants and $2.06 million for administration and outreach, was unanimously approved during Harris County Commissioners Court Aug. 10. Applications for the program will run for two weeks beginning Sept. 20. A website with additional information for applicants is slated to go live on Aug. 20, Hidalgo said.

"Micro-businesses, particularly those located within communities of color, have disproportionately been hurt by the pandemic," Garcia said in a statement. "I’m particularly concerned about businesses in Precinct 2, which is why I’ve proposed a strong small-business outreach to be incorporated ensuring that those small businesses that need the assistance will know how to apply for our new small-business relief fund. The program and partnership will help so many micro-businesses in need get financial support to stay afloat and remain the backbone of our local economy."

Applicants for the new Harris County relief program will need to be businesses registered in Harris County with 30 or fewer employees, according to the agenda item. Applicants will need to have annual revenue of less than $500,000 in 2019 and 2020, and the business must have been in operation before March 11, 2020.

Harris County has provided small businesses with $40 million in aid since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. The county approved a similar small business relief fund last year using federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

By Chris Mathews, Houston Business Journal