Ald. Sophia King at her 4th Ward Business and COVID-19 Informational Webinar.


Government and private-sector officials explained resources available to local business owners confronting the rapidly changing economic conditions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

"Obviously this is a fluid situation, and because of the fluidity of the situation, the solutions are also fluid," said State Rep. Kambium Buckner (D-26th) on a Friday web call organized by Ald. Sophia King (4th).

Buckner, who represents western Hyde Park-Kenwood in Springfield, said the elected officials on the call have been communicating with the mayor and governor to keep appraised of changing circumstances.

"We're looking forward to talking to folks and seeing what your pain (and) pressure points are," Buckner said, "what's important to you, and how we can bring all these resources to be able to make sure we can make it through this crisis in the best way possible."

Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th), Reps. Curtis J. Tarver II (D-25th) and Lamont Robinson (D-5th) also were on the call. While their offices are physically closed, they have instructed their staffs to work remotely and said their offices can help support local businesses through the pandemic.

Rep. Robin Kelly (D-2nd), who represents a section of East Hyde Park in Congress and had just voted to pass the $2 trillion stimulus bill in Washington, said the bill would give $377 billion in grants and loans for small businesses, $10 million for Minority Business Development Agency grants, $1,200 grants for households making less than $75,000, $100 billion for hospitals, $5 billion to Illinois, $30 billion for K-12 and higher education and help for independent contractors and those paying back student loans.

"It's a long, long bill, but those are the major parts," Kelly said. "Help is coming in, but it's not the end-all be-all. We're also working on Stimulus No. 4, because we still know, as long as this goes on, it's not enough."

Ibie Hart said the state's Office of Minority Economic Empowerment (OMEE) is offering help in applying for Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, now available for up to $2 million or $25,000 without collateral. Private nonprofits can apply. Recipients do not have to make their first payments for months now, and repayment can be negotiated up to a span of 30 years. 

"It's called a loan, but it also, with the terms that were created, has been been made to really put you back in the place where you once were," she said, urging businesses to apply regardless of their credit scores.

The state's new, $14 million Hospitality Emergency Grant Program is for bars and restaurants that made less than $1 million in revenue last year and hotels that earned less than $8 million. (AirBNBs are exempt.) The grants, which range $10,000-$50,000, can be used for rent, payroll, accounts payable and jobs training. The deadline is 5 p.m. on April 1, with awards selected by lottery sent out by April 4.

Applications for the $100 million Chicago Small Business Resiliency Fund will go live on March 31, with interest rates and the application process itself to be set over the weekend. Nonprofits can apply.

Ivan Capifali with the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) said the city is focusing on education rather than enforcement at present.

"We are actively reminding businesses of the closure order," he said, saying the city is receiving a lot of notices about non-essential businesses that are continuing operations. BACP is not issuing citations, he said, unless businesses keep flouting the order.

Restaurants that need help facilitating curbside pickup can get assistance from aldermanic offices and the Chicago Department of Transportation.

City permitting is dependent on whether City Council, which cancelled its March meeting because of the pandemic, has to approve them. But those that do not have to be legislatively cleared can be done by uploading documents online.

Representatives from the private sector said programs are scaling up to counter the crisis. Rhonda McFarland said the Quad Communities Development Corporation, 4210 S. Berkeley Ave., is conducting one-on-ones with more than 200 businesses and helping with grant, loan and e-commerce applications.

Diane Burnham with the South East Chicago Commission, 1511 E. 53rd St., referenced the nonprofit's planned virtual consultations for businesses in and around Hyde Park.

Shantel Hampton with CIBC said the bank's EasyPath Financing program helps businesses that have been open at least a year can apply for up to $30,000 with flexible underwriting standards. "We will work with you if you have a lower credit score," she said, highlighting lines of credit or term loans 5.99% fixed rates. She said loans are available "for all industries," responding to a question about their availability for barbers and beauty parlors.

CIBC's Entrepreneur Loan Program for start-ups that have gone through programming offered by organizations like the Chicago Urban League or Sunshine Enterprises offers up to $10,000 in financing or $30,000 for businesses that have gone through the program for at least a year.

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