CORONAVIRUS

Iowa adding $20 million coronavirus-related small business help

Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, speaks to the press during the daily coronavirus news
Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, speaks to the press during the daily coronavirus news conference on Wednesday, April 8, 2020, at the State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, Iowa. (KELSEY KREMER/POOL, THE REGISTER)

JOHNSTON — Restaurants, bars and other small businesses hard hit by the initial coronavirus-related closures were among the first applicants to receive state economic assistance grants that Wednesday were bumped up to $24 million, state officials said.

Overall, the state received requests for more than $148 million in state aid to help businesses with between two and 25 employees weather effects of the pandemic, Gov. Kim Reynolds told a news conference at the state’s emergency operations center.

“There is absolutely no playbook for this situation that we’re in right now,” Reynolds said, announcing the state is expanding by $20 million its $4 million state grant assistance program that is aimed at helping small businesses that have been adversely affected by state orders to close temporarily as the COVID-19 disease spreads.

The announcement came on a day when Iowa Department of Public Health officials reported Iowa’s 27th coronavirus-related death — a Linn County resident over the age of 80.

After posting its first 100-plus day Tuesday, Iowa reported 97 new positive cases Wednesday — bringing the overall total to 1,145 in 79 of Iowa’s 99 counties.

Of those who tested positive for the disease, 38 percent have recovered, Reynolds said.

According to Wednesday’s report by health officials, 1,151 people tested negative, for a total of 12,821. Currently, 122 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, an overnight increase from 104.

Linn County remains the spot where the most cases have been reported — 197, followed by Johnson County with 147, Polk at 134, Scott at 77, Washington at 62, Muscatine at 61 and Tama at 46.

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Currently, Iowans between the ages of 41 and 60 have the most positive cases with 420, followed by 350 among Iowans 18-40, 290 in the 61-80 range, 72 among the 80 and older group and 13 among children 17 and younger, according to the Health Department.

So far, 601 women and 544 men have tested positive in Iowa.

During Wednesday’s news conference, Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, said 503 grant replies were sent out Tuesday evening, totaling more than $10 million, and the numbers will grow daily until the state hits the $24 million that is being distributed from the state’s economic emergency fund and the authority’s budget.

“Every application was triaged, and I use this word very purposely because triage actually describes this entire effort and this entire process,” Durham said. “We determined eligibility and the businesses identifying the greatest revenue disruption were awarded in this first round of funding that went out last evening.”

The state’s economic development director said many of the first grant recipients were restaurants, bars, breweries and other small businesses hit by the first wave of closures ordered last month to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

But more money will be distributed to many economic sectors that produced nearly 14,000 applications seeking $148 million in eligible requests from struggling businesses.

“Currently, we are leveraging state and federal assistance to provide much-needed relief to Iowa workers and businesses now to help get them through this challenging time until we are fully opened for business again,” Reynolds said.

Iowa officials announced last month that they were making $4 million in state assistance available to small businesses — especially those in “consumer-facing” industries” — as a “stopgap” measure for up to 30 days to supplement federal aid.

That was expanded by $20 million Wednesday to aid businesses that Durham described as “the backbones of our communities,” noting that about half the first wave of applicants already had returned signed contracts and were “in the process of getting their checks” Wednesday.

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Reynolds said she expects to hear more details and guidance next week from federal officials who have indicated Iowa will receive a $1.25 billion block grant as part of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump.

The new Iowa Small Business Relief Program is designed to offer eligible small businesses grants ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 in addition to offering businesses a deferral of sales and use or withholding taxes due and waiver of penalty and interest.

Reynolds said the state Department of Revenue has received about 5,700 applications for the tax deferral of up to 60 days.

To be eligible for a small business relief grant, businesses must be experiencing disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic and have employed between two and 25 people before March 17. The state grants are intended to assist eligible businesses maintain operations or reopen, and the funds may not be used to pay debts incurred before March 17.

A state website — www.iowabusinessrecovery.com — lists a number of applications, programs and resources for businesses.

Reynolds has not placed Iowa under a restrictive shelter-at-home order, but she said she has taken extraordinary actions in activating the public health response and recovery aspects of the state disaster emergency plan through April 30 to slow the spread of the virus while protecting supply chains and enabling essential workers to function.

She has urged Iowans to stay and work at home when possible and to limit trips to get food, medication and drugs and other essentials — while also restricting trips to one family member and keeping at least 6 feet away from others.

According to the Health Department, the locations and age ranges of the 97 new cases are:

• Allamakee County, one adult (18-40 years), one older adult (61-80 years);

• Benton County, one child (up to 17 years);

• Black Hawk County, one adult (18-40 years), three middle-age adults (41-60 years);

• Cedar County, three adults (18-40 years), one older adult (61-80 years);

• Clinton County, one adult (18-40 years), one middle-age adult (41-60 years);

• Crawford County, one adult (18-40 years);

• Harrison County, one adult (18-40 years);

• Henry County, two adults (18-40 years);

• Johnson County, 10 adults (18-40 years), one middle-age adult (41-60 years), two older adult (61-80 years);

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• Linn County, one child (up to 17 years), four adults (18-40 years), one middle-age adult (41-60 years), three older adults (61-80 years), two elderly adults (81+);

• Louisa County, four adults (18-40 years), five middle-age adults (41-60 years), one older adult (61-80 years);

• Marshall County, one adult (18-40 years);

• Muscatine County, four adults (18-40 years), five middle-age adults (41-60 years), one older adult (61-80 years);

• Polk County, two adults (18-40 years), four middle-age adults (41-60 years), one older adult (61-80 years);

• Pottawattamie County, one middle-age adult (41-60 years), one older adult (61-80 years);

• Scott County, four adults (18-40 years), seven middle-age adults (41-60 years), one older adult (61-80 years);

• Tama County, one adult (18-40 years), one middle-age adult (41-60 years), two older adults (61-80 years);

• Warren County, one elderly adult (81+);

• Washington County, three adults (18-40 years), one middle-age adult (41-60 years), one older adult (61-80 years);

• Webster County, one older adult (61-80 years);

• Woodbury County, two middle-age adults (41-60 years);

• And Worth County, one middle-age adult (41-60 years).

James Q. Lynch of The Gazette Des Moines Bureau contributed.

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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