Some Savannah small business owners upset by first round distribution of CARES Act funds

Some Savannah small business owners upset by first round distribution of CARES Act funds

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Many small business owners in Savannah are upset, and believe CARES Act money meant to be a life-line wasn’t distributed fairly.

Several small business owners gathered in protest outside of Savannah City Hall on Thursday before the virtual city council meeting. They believe the money was unfairly awarded to businesses located in the Historic District and Downtown.

Zip codes of businesses that received CARES Act funds.
Zip codes of businesses that received CARES Act funds. (Source: WTOC)

Here’s a breakdown of where businesses that did receive the money are located. You can see the majority are in the zip code that’s primarily downtown Savannah.

For business owners like Belinda Baptiste, Savannah’s first round of CARES Act funding dedicated to small business would’ve gone a long way, had she received any.

“That would’ve been ideal, that would’ve been great. In fact, we applied the day of. We applied the day of. I applied, I sent it to the accountant, he approved, and then we sent it. And we didn’t get anything,” Unforgettable Bakery and Café owner Belinda Baptiste said.

Baptiste also missed out on federal aid as the pandemic’s economic effects began to take hold on Savannah. So, to make rent, and pay utility bills, the bakery and cafe owner has had to get creative.

“I had to do extra stuff, you know, driving Über, deliver Instacart, do different things so I could pay those. Because I didn’t receive any funding,” Baptiste said.

Baptiste’s disappointment in how the first round of CARES Act funding was dispersed to Savannah businesses was shared at last night’s City Council meeting, and outside City Hall.

“I signed up for the CARES Act at 9:27 Tuesday morning, and it started at 9 o’ clock, and I didn’t get it,” said one protester.

The organization tasked by the City of Savannah with handing out the CARES Act grant money was the Small Business Assistance Corporation.

“Round one, the agreement was to forgive COVID-related loans that were issued back in March and April,” said Victoria Saxton, with SBAC. Saxton said the goal was to meet the September 1st federal deadline on the spending of the CARES Act funds.

About $1.6 million of the CARES Act funding went to loan forgiveness, leaving Savannah’s small businesses needing help to compete for the rest. Saxton explained why the majority of the businesses receiving CARES Act funding were downtown.

“The intention wasn’t to exclude any other businesses. It’s just at that point in time the loans that had already gone through (the) loan forgiveness process in March and April, the majority were downtown because of the St. Patrick’s Day cancellation,” Saxton said.

According to the City of Savannah, though, a directive was given by city leaders to use CARES Act funding to forgive up to $25,000 in loans for businesses, instead of the $50,000 granted to most, and to hold the remaining money to create a new relief fund. For round two, new parameters are set to give preference to minority-owned businesses, those in low-income, disadvantaged neighborhoods and those with five or less employees, in addition to general businesses.

According to the SBAC, round two’s application window opens next Tuesday, Sept. 1 at 8 a.m., and closes Sept. 8 at 5 p.m.

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