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'Short window' for SC small businesses to apply for chunk of $65 million in COVID aid

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McMaster small business grants

Gov. Henry McMaster on Friday urged small businesses and nonprofits to apply by Nov. 1 for coronavirus aid approved by the Legislature. Behind him (left to right) are S.C. Department of Administration Director Marcia Adams; Michele Abraham, director of the S.C. Small Business Development Centers; Teresa Wardlaw, owner of Cool Care Heating & Air; Stephen Gilchrist, chairman of the S.C. African American Chamber of Commerce; and Brian Gaines, program director at the Department of Administration. Seanna Adcox/Staff 

COLUMBIA — South Carolina's small businesses and nonprofits can apply over the next two weeks for a piece of $65 million in coronavirus aid approved by the Legislature last month, Gov. Henry McMaster announced Friday.

He urged small businesses trying to stay afloat amid the ongoing pandemic to work quickly to take advantage of the offer.

The application goes live Monday on the state's acclerateSC website. All applications must be submitted online before midnight Nov. 1.

"So there's a short window for these small businesses," McMaster said. "Get ready, because it's coming, and this may be the last chance we have to do this." 

Last month, legislators allocated $40 million for small businesses and $25 million for nonprofits under a compromise that spent the remainder of a $1.9 billion chunk of federal COVID-19 aid for South Carolina that Congress approved in late March.

Legislatively created panels will decide who's approved for the aid and how much. The winners will be notified by Dec. 15, said Brian Gaines, who's overseeing federal COVID-19 aid for the S.C. Department of Administration. 

Any company with 25 or fewer employees can apply for up to $25,000 through the small business program. But minority-owned businesses and those with fewer than 15 employees, which haven't received other federal coronavirus relief, will be prioritized for the money.

As of June, an estimated one-third of South Carolina's Black-owned businesses had closed for good, said Stephen Gilchrist, chairman of the S.C. African American Chamber of Commerce. 

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Nearly 75 percent of his 10,000 members are "mom and pop" businesses with 10 or fewer employees. They largely didn't benefit from the federal Paycheck Protection Program because they didn't know about it or how to access the aid and couldn't submit their applications on time, he said.

"At least we're at the table at the front end" of this program, Gilchrist said. "This will help some of them not only survive but maintain."  

The announcement was held at a heating and cooling business in Columbia. 

Owner Teresa Wardlaw said Cool Care did get some help during the second round of PPP loans last spring, after submitting five applications in a stressful back-and-forth process. But she plans to apply for a chunk of this aid too. 

"Anyone would be crazy not to apply," said Wardlaw, whose 20-year-old company employs 23 people. "Ensuring my employees receive a paycheck is a priority for us." 

Nonprofits can apply for up to $50,000. Priority will go to organizations that help South Carolina's residents, such as providing food, assistance in paying bills, shelter for victims of abuse, and mental health counseling and other health care services. The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act specifies the aid can't go directly to individuals.

Eligible reimbursements for both grant programs include two months' worth of rent, payroll, utilities and protective items, for spending since March. 

Follow Seanna Adcox on Twitter at @seannaadcox_pc.

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