New coronavirus grants for small Pa. businesses aim for inclusivity, but can’t track success

by Charlotte Keith of Spotlight PA | Feb. 25, 2021

HARRISBURG — Applications open next month (March 15 2021) for $145 million in state grants for small hospitality businesses, with a significant change by lawmakers intended to ensure the money is more accessible to low-income and minority owners shut out from some relief last year.

But assessing whether it’s a success will be difficult, as the legislature failed to give the Wolf administration the authority to collect data on race or ethnicity from applicants.

Since the start of the pandemic a year ago, the state has rushed to deliver aid to a variety of sectors of the economy damaged by the economic ripple effects of the coronavirus. But in that haste, the earliest effort catered mostly to white business owners, a previous Spotlight PA review found.

Officials have acknowledged that shortcoming, and have since taken steps to fix it. A second round of funding last summer set aside half of the money for businesses owned by people of color.

Now, a new COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program is giving counties the option to tap into a state network of small business lenders that focus on communities often neglected by mainstream financial institutions.

The first business relief program relied on a different network of economic development groups. Now, counties can take their pick between the two, or use both.

“Our concern was, you’ll exclude the low-income, minority-owned businesses,” said Chris Hudock, director of Rising Tide Community Loan Fund in the Lehigh Valley.

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