Cuyahoga Falls awarding grants to help small businesses during COVID-19 pandemic

42 grants already provided; 20 more will be awarded

PHIL KEREN Reporter
Many businesses along Front Street received $5,000 grants from the city to help them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

CUYAHOGA FALLS — The city is using Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money to provide financial assistance to small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 40 companies benefiting thus far, and plans to assist even more.

City Council on July 27 unanimously agreed to put $394,954 in COVID-19 relief funds into the municipality’s CDBG fund.

Cuyahoga Falls City spokesperson Kelli Crawford-Smith said the CDBG funds are being used to provide grants to small businesses to help keep them open during the pandemic ($310,000), help low-income families with personal computers to assist with distance learning ($5,000), and cover administrative costs related to pandemic response planning ($78,990).

Peggy Szalay, the city’s CDBG Entitlement Administrator, said the municipality learned in April that it was receiving $394,954 in CDBG funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that can be used to “prevent, prepare for and respond to [the] coronavirus.” The allocation of CDBG money was authorized by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was signed into law in late March.

Szalay said the community development department has thus far provided a total of 42 working capital grants of $5,000 to city businesses to help them during the pandemic. Businesses were able to use the funds for rent, lease payments, utility bills and payroll.

“The grants [were awarded] in exchange for [businesses] retaining one part-time employee,” explained Szalay to council on July 20. She said this set of grant money was only provided to businesses such as restaurants, salons and retail stores that relied on “walk-in patronage,” and was limited to companies on Front Street, State Road, and Graham Road.

“The funds that we were putting out originally were our own funds for economic development,” said Szalay. “We were… willing to use the funding that we normally use to give grants and loans to businesses to help save our businesses. We do a lot of work on Front Street, State Road [and] Graham Road, so it seemed like a good area to start with, but … we were hearing from other areas that also needed help.”

Before receiving word that they would receive COVID-19 CDBG money through the CARES Act, Crawford-Smith said the city started helping businesses using its “normal Economic Development Entitlement Funds.”

“[HUD] has approved reimbursement for COVID-19 activities regardless of when the activity started,” said Crawford-Smith. “This means the normal CDBG Entitlement funds will be reimbursed back to the CDBG Economic Development line of credit for use as non-COVID 19 small business grants and loans.”

Now, the city is poised to award 20 more of the $5,000 grants to a wider variety of businesses on a city-wide level. Crawford-Smith said the COVID-19 funds will cover the $100,000 worth of new grants after HUD approved an amendment to the city’s annual action plan on July 28.

“Most of our needs in our city has been small businesses that had to close their doors and we still have some every day that talk to us about the struggles that they’re facing, not being able to make their rent payments, not being able to keep their workers,” said Szalay.

Crawford-Smith said information explaining the grant program will be released in early September. She added businesses that have not already received a grant from the city or the county will be eligible for the money. Applications will be available at the community development department.

Other uses for COVID CDBG money 

Szalay said the city will use $78,892 of its COVID-19 CDBG money to pay for her staff’s administrative costs of managing the grant program. Doing this will lessen the burden on the city’s general fund, which would normally pay such expenses, added Szalay.

Szalay added the community development department partnered with PCs for People and spent $5,000 of the COVID-19 CDBG money to provide hot spots for internet access and computers to eight income-qualified families. PCs for People is a non-profit group that refurbishes desktop and laptop computers for distribution to low income individuals and non-profit organizations.

“The city … was part of the effort to make sure that Cuyahoga Falls students were able to participate in distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic,” added Crawford-Smith.

Council member Frank Stams (D-8) said he and his colleagues were “grateful” for Szalay’s work. Council member Meika Marie Penta (D-3) added it was “wonderful” that the city is providing needed fiscal assistance to businesses.

Nearly $3 million in COVID-19 relief

Council on July 27 also unanimously backed legislation accepting the city’s $1.4 million share of money from the county’s COVID-19 Local Government Payroll Support Grant Program.

In June, council approved the receipt of $1.57 million in state money for COVID-19 relief and to create a fund where the money would be deposited.

Crawford-Smith said the county and state money will be used for wages and benefits of safety forces.

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.