New COVID relief funding targets minorities, women, veterans

By , Daily Memphian Updated: October 07, 2020 7:10 PM CT | Published: October 07, 2020 6:24 PM CT

Gov. Bill Lee’s Administration has unveiled another $50 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds, this time designed to help businesses owned by minorities, women and veterans.

An application period opened Oct. 7 and closes Dec. 29 for grants capped at $30,000. They will be distributed to businesses on a first-come, first-served basis in low- to moderate-income census tracts. Those in Opportunity zones could receive an extra $500 as part of the Supplemental Employer Recovery Act (SERG).

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<strong>Raumesh Akbari</strong>

Raumesh Akbari

State Sen. Raumesh Akbari, a Memphis Democrat, has been urging the governor’s financial stimulus accountability group to direct money to these types of groups since Lee formed the committee shortly after the start of the pandemic this spring.

“Business owners are hurting for customers and hoping for some sense of normalcy right now,” Akbari said. “And like many other aspects of the pandemic, this economic challenge is falling hardest on minority-owned businesses.”

Akbari said she hopes the program will “effectively reach” Black business owners who were unable to obtain other coronavirus relief funds such as the Payroll Protection Program.

“With COVID-19 still spreading, we know their problems are not going away,” Akbari said.

Businesses can use the money to reimburse expenses from May 1 through Aug. 31, such as costs for social distancing, personal protective equipment, contactless equipment, payroll expenses and mortgage interest.

Using $2.3 billion approved by Congress through the CARES Act, the governor’s group previously approved about $300 million for 40,000 qualifying businesses under the Tennessee Business Relief Program.

However, the state has projected it will send out only $185 million of those funds, leaving it with $123.5 million

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“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and supporting them through these difficult times has been one of the core missions of the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group,” Lee said. “The SERG program will provide further relief to small businesses, especially those who may not have been able to access previous federal and state relief funds.”

The lion’s share of Tennessee’s CARES Act money, about $837 million, has gone toward the state’s unemployment insurance fund.

Another $206.6 million went to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, and $121.3 million went to the state’s public health response, including $4.3 million for the state’s “Fact It” campaign, designed to encourage people to wear masks.

The state also spent portions of the money on Community CARES, local governments, K-12 technology and reopening, higher education technology and reopening, emergency broadband, agriculture and forestry support, tourism and re-employment programs.

But it has $494 million on hand, which must be spent before the end of the 2020 or the state must return the money to the federal government.

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About $250 million of the remaining money is set to go toward unemployment insurance in the final three months of the year.


Raumesh Akbari Bill Lee coronavirus COVID COVID-19
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter with more than 30 years of journalism experience as a writer, editor and columnist covering the state Legislature and Tennessee politics for The Daily Memphian.


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