SPRINGFIELD—Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) today announced more than $275 million in nearly 9,000 emergency assistance grants have been made to small businesses in over 600 cities and towns statewide through the Business Interruption Grants (BIG) program. Through this historic program – the largest of its kind in the nation – grants have been made available to a wide range of small businesses- with a focus on the industries and communities hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis, and with the majority of funding going to smaller and minority-owned businesses.
Today’s announcement marks the conclusion of the BIG program, which was created by Governor Pritzker and the General Assembly to assist Illinois’ hardest hit businesses with making ends meet during the pandemic. A full list of awards made can be found on DCEO’s website.
“Small businesses are the backbone of their local communities, providing essential goods and services to Illinois residents across the state. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, too many of those businesses are facing tough choices about the future, which is why my administration worked quickly to launch the historic BIG program to provide the relief business owners need,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “Through BIG, the state was able to provide nearly 9,000 grants to small businesses in every corner of the state, with nearly half of all grants going to businesses in industries and communities hardest hit by COVID-19. Over $275 million in funding has been dispersed, allowing businesses to make payroll, purchase PPE, and cover other necessary operational costs. While the BIG program has now concluded, my administration continues to provide other relief programming for Illinois businesses and families impacted by COVID-19.”
Using an equity framework created by the Pritzker administration and the General Assembly, the BIG program sought to ensure that the hardest hit businesses and communities would be prioritized for small business grants provided using federal CARES Act dollars. As a result, nearly half, or over 4,200 awards, were made to businesses located in disproportionately impacted areas (DIAs); more than 80 percent, or over 7,300 awards, were made to businesses with $1 million or less in annual revenues; and 40 percent, or over 3,600 awards, were made to minority-owned businesses statewide. Additionally, $105 million or 3,100 awards were provided to downstate communities.
“Through the historic BIG program, we are proud to have helped thousands of deserving businesses with assistance that will help them continue to make payroll, afford operational costs, and make ends meet during these unprecedented times,” said DCEO Director Erin Guthrie. “With equity a cornerstone of Governor Pritzker’s response to COVID-19, our BIG grantees represent the hardest hit industries, the hardest hit communities, and among the smallest and most vulnerable businesses affected by the pandemic. We thank our community and grant partners for their tireless work over the past several months, and we stand committed to assisting more small businesses impacted in the months ahead.”
The hardest hit industry sectors are among the largest beneficiaries of this program – including restaurants and taverns; gyms and fitness centers; museums; performing arts venues, event venues, concert venues; and indoor recreation. Businesses located in downstate communities were also prioritized for funding. Nearly half of all funds went to restaurants and taverns, with 3,747 grants totaling more than $133 million dollars. More than 2,700 grants were made to other heavily impacted industries.
“Illinois’ restaurant industry has been devastated by COVID-19, necessitating continued relief at the local, state and federal levels,” said Sam Toia, President and CEO, Illinois Restaurant Association. “Every grant, every program, stands to make a difference. Financial support – now and in the future – remains critical to the industry’s long-term chances for survival.”
BIG grants average $30,000 in size. Grants were tailored in amounts ranging from $5,000-$150,000, according to the amount of loss incurred. The funds may be used toward reimbursing losses due to COVID and operational expenses, including PPE, rent and utilities, payroll, and more. To receive BIG grants, businesses were required to demonstrate they experienced losses due to COVID-19, and that annual revenues in 2019 did not exceed $20 million.
To administer this unprecedented program quickly and efficiently, DCEO partnered with Accion Serving Illinois and Indiana and the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) to launch a streamlined online application process to respond to the urgent demands facing businesses. Thousands of applications were reviewed each week – and more than 50,000 were reviewed in total before the program closed. Given the extended nature of the crisis, DCEO maintained a rolling application to ensure that small businesses in every part of the state had ample opportunity to apply and receive grant funding, with many businesses awarded funds in the final weeks of 2020.
To help small, minority-owned and hard to reach businesses gain access to the program, DCEO partnered with a dozen community organizations to conduct outreach and technical assistance for businesses seeking funding. Using a “community navigator model,” DCEO worked with lead partners including the Chicago Urban League, the Resurrection Project, IBIC and the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation to connect with over 29,000 individual businesses in the fall and winter months of the program.
Community outreach efforts complemented efforts by DCEO’s own statewide network of 42 Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), regional economic development liaisons and businesses development directors in the Office of Minority Economic Empowerment who partnered with community leaders, chambers, and legislators to conduct over 200 webinars, 1:1 Technical assistance, and calls reaching over 15,000 businesses throughout the course of the program.
The BIG program is one part of over $1 billion in emergency assistance programs awarded by the State of Illinois in response to the economic crisis created by COVID-19. These programs have collectively provided financial assistance to thousands of businesses and communities across the state, through programs including the $250 million Local CURE program, $325 million through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, and over $580 million distributed to small business and childcare providers through the BIG program.