Small businesses in Schuylkill County’s hospitality industry can now apply for grants to get back some of the losses they suffered during the coronavirus pandemic.
Schuylkill County was recently awarded about $1.6 million through the COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program (CHIRP) to give to businesses adversely impacted by the pandemic.
Many of these businesses in Schuylkill County missed out on a short-lived grant program created using a small portion of the county’s $12.7 million CARES Act allotment in 2020. So, the CHIRP grant is essentially a second chance for those small businesses here.
The economic development non-profit group NEPA Alliance was selected by Schuylkill County Commissioners earlier this week as the administrator of this grant program, keeping it largely independent of local politicians. The County government was awarded the approximately $1.6 million and it will be sending that money to NEPA Alliance, of Pittston, to vet applications from local businesses, according to Stephen Ursich, the VP of Business Development Services there.
Ursich tells The Canary that Schuylkill and Pike counties have selected NEPA Alliance to administer these grants. Right now, the agreement is for NEPA Alliance to get $500 per application as its fee for services, though that may change to just per approved application. That money comes from the $1.6 million grant total.
CHIRP Grants Now Available to Schuylkill County Hospitality Small Businesses
The CHIRP grant application period was set to open on March 15. When we spoke with Ursich on Friday afternoon, he was putting the finishing touches on the application and related documents as well as an FAQ page online. By the end of the day, Ursich tells us that not only are those applications ready but the program is now officially open to small businesses here in Schuylkill County.
CHIRP grants will be awarded to successful applicants in NAICS subsectors 721 (Accommodations) and 722 (Food Service and Drinking Places). This program is limited to those businesses specifically. And the reality is it’s those businesses – small restaurants, bars, and hotels – that have been severely impacted by government restrictions on their activity in the past year.
While the CHIRP application period is now open, it’ll only stay open as long as the money lasts. Ursich said that while $1.6 million sounds like a lot, divided up among potentially hundreds of businesses it’s really not. Ultimately, the CHIRP application window closes on June 15.
The smallest grant award available through CHIRP is $5,000. Awards will be given in $5,000 increments up to $25,000. That limit is specific to Schuylkill County.
Ursich tells us that County government officials decided to limit the maximum value of the CHIRP grants to give more businesses access to the money.
“It doesn’t go that far if you’re doing $50,000 grants,” he says.
Perhaps they learned their lessons from the botched rollout of the CARES Act grant program, which saw a relatively low number of applicants from Schuylkill County businesses. For example, only about 14% of Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce’s more than 700 members applied for one of those grants, indicating knowledge of its existence was probably very low.
How to Apply for a CHIRP Grant in Schuylkill County
In addition to the requirement that a business be either one of those two NAICS classifications, these CHIRP grants are limited to businesses with (or are):
- Fewer than 300 full-time employees
- Maximum tangible net worth of less than $15 million
- Business was operating on Feb. 15, 2020, remains open, and plans to be open a year from application date
- Affected adversely by COVID pandemic
If you’re one of those small businesses in Schuylkill County that does qualify, you can apply by filling out 4 different forms (including the actual application) and sending them back to NEPA Alliance.
The four forms are:
- NEPA CHIRP Grant Application
- CHIRP Grant Certification
- Non-discrimination Sexual Harassment Clause
You can find digital copies of each of those forms at the bottom of this article or by visiting the NEPA Alliance page here.
(FOR MORE ON THE CHIRP GRANTS: Schuylkill County Hospitality Businesses Getting Another Shot at COVID Grants)
It’s imperative that small businesses fill out those 4 forms to be eligible for CHIRP grant funds.
“We need a complete application,” Ursich says.
He did indicate that if any business turns in an incomplete application, NEPA Alliance will provide one-on-one assistance to help them get it done properly.
Businesses may want to have an accountant look over these forms or complete them on their behalf. Before deciding to open the CHIRP grant program right away, Ursich said he wanted the applications in business owners’ hands so they took the time to complete the application in full to be ready for when the program does open.
By opening the program early, it may actually speed up the award process. Rather than face a rush of applications when the program was designed to open initially, businesses that have all the information they need at the ready right now can alleviate some of that rush.
Once a business completes the application and fills out the other corresponding forms, they must send it back to NEPA Alliance using this email address: email@example.com. The PDFs can be filled out digitally, saved, and then attached to the email.
However, Ursich said that’s not the only way to apply.
“If a small restaurant called and said they’d need to fax it in, we’ll take that fax,” he says.
For those businesses, that number is 570-654-5137. NEPA Alliance’s main phone number is 570-655-5581.
Award Process for CHIRP Grants in Schuylkill County
The biggest concern for the small businesses that need these CHIRP grants is how soon they can get their money. Our biggest concern was who was making the decisions on what applications were success and which weren’t.
Ursich provided some detail on the approval process and the time it’ll take to get money to the successful business applications.
First, the Business Development staff at NEPA Alliance will be making the call on which small businesses in Schuylkill County get a CHIRP grant. Ursich said the ultimate decision, essentially, is his.
Once his office gets an application, he said it’ll get logged and they’ll start reviewing them on a one-by-one basis. Despite the early start of the program now, the first two weeks may operate a little more slowly.
Ursich said the goal is to get back in contact with applicants within a week and that his office plans to be “cutting checks on a weekly basis.”
He says that speed in processing these applications is imperative, at the direction of Schuylkill County Commissioners.
“The county is very adamant that they want this money on the street as quickly as possible,” Ursich says.
CHIRP Grant Application Forms and Documents
Here are the 4 forms Schuylkill County businesses must remit to NEPA Alliance to be considered for a CHIRP grant: