Washington State Governor Announces Sweeping $135 COVID Grant Program

After months of failed stimulus talks at the federal level, many individuals and businesses who have been affected by the pandemic began losing hope of receiving any form of government assistance. In the meantime, individual states have started up their own programs with the hope of maintaining the businesses they have left. The latest state to implement a COVID grant program for small businesses is Washington.

On November 19, 2020, Gov. Inslee announced the $135M program. Here are the critical details for small businesses looking for aid who have a nexus in Washington state.

The Business Piece

While the specifics of the deal still need to be ironed out, we do know generally how the money will be partitioned. Inslee stated that $70M is ready to be issued to small businesses struggling during the pandemic.

While details like how a business qualifies as "small" and what other criteria may exist, this could include sole proprietors and independent contractors, as well. Regardless of the amount of revenue lost due to the pandemic, there is a hard cap set by the state at $10,000 for the grant.

For businesses that the state doesn't consider "small" or don't otherwise make the cut, there are still options. $30M has been allocated for low or no-interest loans to businesses from the state. This is to ensure that they can operate in the meantime. Unlike the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), it's uncertain whether these loans will be forgivable over time or if these businesses will be expected to pay them back.

The People Piece

Though many outlets covering this solely mention the business aspect, there's a critical component of this that's geared to individuals hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. Though it's a fraction of the money allocated for the program, money has been set aside to ensure that people do not become homeless due to their inability to pay for necessities because of the pandemic.

The first component is $20M in targeted rental assistance. Again, the state has not yet announced specific eligibility criteria. It will likely require that recipients make under a certain amount of money, are at risk of becoming homeless, and can't find work for a legitimate reason. There's no hard cap set at the moment on this.

The second component to this piece is $15M in utilities assistance. Through executive orders, Gov. Inslee effectively prevented power and water companies from shutting off services due to non-payment. As months went by, these orders expired, leaving those who are the most vulnerable without critical necessities. The $15M also has no hard cap set yet, but it's designed to help bolster the state's fund for individuals with COVID-related hardships.

Delivery Fees

One small aspect of this that's likely to have a significant impact on the state's economy is that Gov. Inslee announced that there will be a delivery fee cap for restaurants. This is because many chains, contrary to the advice and pleas of consumers and physicians alike, have failed to reduce their delivery fees in general. In the worst cases, these states have increased delivery fees, forcing those who likely have very little income to pay out even more to remain safe while getting food delivered.

Notably, this fee will only apply to third-party services. This means that the grant is not applicable to direct restaurant deliveries, but rather those who have independent contractors go to restaurants, pick up food, and bring it to recipients' homes.

In itself, this can be considered a grant, though likely to the chagrin of these third-party providers. The hope is that people who can afford to will tip drivers providing critical services at this time with more cash flow, and that those who can't will at least be able to afford food.

How Will I Know If I'm Eligible?

Again, there has been no hard cap set on limits other than the $10,000 business limit. Loan applications will be available via the Washington State Department of Commerce soon. If you're someone who would likely qualify, stay on the lookout for news pertaining to how to apply for it. Due to the relatively low amounts allocated and the first-come, first-serve nature of the program for individuals, you'll need to be fast to get the money.

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