St. Louis County Small Business Relief Program offers up to $15,000 in COVID-19 grants


Photo by Erin Achenbach

Some businesses were forced to close by St. Louis County’s March 21 stay-at-home order, but others like the Macy’s at South County Center, seen above during the stay-at-home order, voluntarily closed before that.

Editor’s note: Several key details of this program have changed since this article was published. Businesses do not have to have been closed during the stay-at-home order in order to apply, but had to have been impacted by coronavirus. Businesses that received money through federal loans or grants already are also eligible. And the county has clarified that the deadline is May 17. For updated information, see this article

Applications are now open for the St. Louis County Small Business Relief Program, which will provide financial relief to struggling small businesses during the coronavirus stay-at-home order.

The financial assistance will come the form of a one-time grant of $15,000 or less to qualifying small businesses that were closed during the stay-at-home order, which is ongoing until at least May 18.

More information on SBR grants and the application process can be found here: Applications should be submitted electronically before Sunday, May 17.

“This is a lifeline and it will not make whole anyone, but it will hopefully keep our businesses alive so they can thrive again,” County Executive Sam Page said in his county executive’s report at the County Council meeting Tuesday.

The grant can be used to pay for the costs of business interruption as a result of the business closing during the stay-at-home order and to cover costs associated with reopening safely, the county said. 

The grant can also cover fixed operating costs that did not go away while the business is closed. Reopening costs could include providing masks for employees — which will be required when some businesses are allowed to start reopening May 18 — or installing plastic shields to reduce the risks of transmission between customers and employees.

A business is eligible for an SBR grant if the business — including for-profit entities, sole proprietorships and nonprofit organizations —  has its principal place of business in St. Louis County, had 50 or fewer full-time employees as of March 1, 2020, and was closed during the stay-at-home order.

The process for awarding SBR grants will incorporate community input to guide grant awards to the small businesses that need financial relief the most. SBR grants will be awarded to businesses based on recommendations received from the business location’s County Council member and, where applicable, mayor of the municipality where the business’s principal place of business is located.

Each County Council member will have up to $2.5 million to distribute. The money is coming from the $173.5 million that the county received from the federal government for COVID-19 response.

Grants will be made based on recommendations from the council members, who have to submit their choices for the grants by June 1. If the business is located in a city, the mayor or chief executive of that city must sign off on the choice or the council member has to state why that didn’t happen. An independent accounting firm will then review all the recommendations to make sure they comply with the grant requirements.

The county is recommending that council members provide grants to businesses that did not receive assistance from the federal government in the form of a Paycheck Protection Program loan, or PPP. But that is not yet included in the official guidelines.

All council member recommendations and selections will be posted on the county’s COVID-19 transparency portal. The independent accounting firm will also summarize the applications that were not chosen for funding.

There are restrictions. At this time, the SBR Program will award a maximum total of $2.5 million in grants per County Council district. Additional funding may be provided in the future.

Additionally, no business may receive an SBR grant if the business has a director, officer, employee, agent or subcontractor that is an elected or appointed official of St. Louis County, an elected or appointed official of any municipality within St. Louis County or is a member of the immediate family of any such elected or appointed official.

Any two businesses that share 25 percent or more ownership are considered to be the same business for the purposes of this grant.

Any business that is not considered in good standing in complying with the county’s stay-at-home order will be ineligible for funding. A nonprofit organization that operates a place of worship will not be disqualified from grants, however, on the sole basis of not complying with the stay-at-home order.