By Craig W. Anderson
The COVID-19 pandemic presented problems for the agriculture community and farmers, ranchers, processors, marketers and various businesses associated with agriculture met the challenges wrought by the virus.
But the work of recovery has costs and agricultural businesses now have an increased opportunity to apply for grants through the California Office of the Small Business Advocate.
For two rounds of grants $475 million will be awarded to for-profit and nonprofit businesses with gross annual revenues from $1,000 to $2.5 million.
“Farm Bureau encourages all of our members to look into these programs to determine if they can provide help,” said SJFB Executive Director Bruce Blodgett. “Some programs are loan oriented and some are grant oriented.”
He said Farm Bureau recommends those members interested in grants work with their lenders to find what works best. Blodgett also pointed out that after what agriculture’s been through for nearly a year ag businesses may not be too enthusiastic about signing on for new, long-term debt, so: “Grants could be the most logical and economically feasible course to take,” Blodgett said.
Economic boost is more important
SJFB President David Strecker said he has mixed feelings because “We don’t need more government presence, more new rules to follow.”
Strecker added, “I would like to see ag, other businesses and the economy opening up rather than relying on government dollars because there’s always a price to pay. Grant dollars are helpful in paying for business necessities but I’m still of the opinion that to defeat the economic hardships caused by COVID we need to get the economy going without a larger reliance on government money.”
SJFB Second Vice President Jake Samuel said his company applied for a grant to “get additional funding, which helped a lot. Anything that will help ag at this time is a very good thing. However, we don’t need the burdens created by adding more regulations to those the ag industry already has.”
Reasons for needing help
“Low prices and ever-increasing costs of doing business have been a major reason agricultural businesses are looking more toward grants for help,” said SJFB First Vice President Ken Vogel. “I’ve worked with the local Farm Services Administration office and the local people there have been very helpful.”
Who is eligible for the state program?
Eligibility for the grants depends on a number of factors including being in business since at least June 1, 2019. Also, the business must currently be operating or have a clear plan to re-open once the state permits it and the business must be impacted by COVID-19 with health and safety restrictions causing business interruption or closure.
Recipients must meet these eligibility requirements and the following factors will also influence whether or not a grant will be possible: geographic distribution based on pandemic health and safety restrictions, industry sectors most impacted by the pandemic and underserved small business groups served by the state supported network of small business centers such as woman owned and operated; minorities/persons of color, veterans and businesses located in low-to-moderate income and rural communities.
Some business types will be ineligible: those not physically located in California, government entities, passive businesses, investment companies and others can be found at www.careliefgrant.com.
Eligible businesses with an annual revenue – based on the most recently filed tax return – from $1,000 to $100,000 qualify for a grant of $5,000; those with revenues greater than $100,000 up to $1,000,000 qualify for $15,000 in grants and businesses with revenues greater than $1,000,000 to $2,500,000 can receive grants of $25,000.
While the deadline for the first round of applications has passed, any applicants not awarded, but eligible, will automatically be considered for the second round; applying again is not required.
At press time, the schedules for second round applications, closing and the start of approval notifications have yet to be determined. Agricultural enterprises that meet the eligibility criteria can apply; those that may have taken out Paycheck Protection Programs funds or used other relief programs can still apply.
Grant funds may be applied to cover employee expenses – wages and salaries, health care and insurance, personal protective equipment, testing, reopening costs and other expenses incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related shelter-in-place orders.
Round two is the final application window for the program and grant awards for businesses in the second application window will be made in two decision rounds for funding.
Owners of multiple businesses, franchises and locations will be considered for only one grant with a requirement of applying for the business with the highest revenue.
The documents required, verification forms, financial information needed and all other requirements are likewise available at the website: careliefgrant.com.
Federal grant opportunities
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (usda.gov) has grant programs covering every aspect of eligibility, types of grants, and policies, agencies, terminology videos, a support center and user guide available to aid applicants.
The Small Business Administration (SBA.gov) offers a variety of grants, among them the Shuttered Venue Operators grant. The SBA is in the process of setting up grant programs and is not yet accepting applications. However, when applications are again considered, those eligible applicants who have suffered the greatest economic loss will be the first processed.
The SBA also provides grant funding to eligible community organizations to promote entrepreneurship and certain businesses in specific industries. The grant money will go to the state, there to be awarded via state agencies to awardees. For example, the SBA’s State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) provides financial awards to state and territory governments in order to help small businesses with export development. The SBA also funnels funds via grants to community organization to help promote entrepreneurship.
At grants.gov there is a Getting Started Checklist covering every aspect of determining and confirming eligibility, identifying the right types of funding opportunities, searching for the specific type of grant, registering and applying. Also, Grants 101 presents a wide ranging list of places to check regarding grants and a section – A Short Summary of Federal Grants – answers many questions about the federal programs.
Among the USDA’s combined loan and grant programs the following are included and can be accessed at USDA.gov: Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, Farmers Market Promotion Program grant, Rural Development Loan and Grant Assistance, and Housing Assistance (which includes grants and loans).
The USDA site includes FAQs and all other necessary information concerning applying, qualifying and eventually receiving a grant from these and other programs.
Even the California Department of Pesticide Regulation has grants available for an assortment of pest-related uses.
Samuel also said processing and packing sheds have installed equipment purchased by grants in ways that encourage on-the-job social distancing.
Vogel said about grant information, “Anything helps. Overall, it’s positive as long as there are no strings attached.”