Gov. Ned Lamont pledges $25M in new grants to help small businesses during pandemic

Christopher Keating, Hartford Courant

Gov. Ned Lamont told business leaders Wednesday that his administration is working hard to help businesses during the ongoing pandemic and will offer an additional $25 million in grants to cash-strapped entities that are struggling to keep their doors open.

Lamont told the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce during a virtual luncheon that he has no plans to close down any restaurants and that $5,000 grants are currently in the process of going out to 10,000 of the state’s smallest businesses and nonprofits that have fewer than 20 full-time employees. That program allocates $50 million in federal funds, but Lamont said the state will also offer another $25 million in small business grants as soon as next week.

The governor’s chief spokesman, Max Reiss, said details have not been finalized on how much each business could receive, adding that state officials are still unsure about how much assistance will come from another federal stimulus package that is being negotiated in Washington.

At the same time, thousands of New Yorkers are moving to Connecticut in order to get away from the cramped spaces of Manhattan in what Lamont hopes will be a long-term trend once vaccines help the coronavirus pandemic to subside. The newcomers have helped Connecticut’s booming real estate market, where prices have been rising in many areas because the inventory for sale is low.

“Folks who are moving here — most of them want to stay,” Lamont said of New Yorkers. “You don’t have to take the subway. You don’t have to take an elevator in most cases.”

In an annual pre-Christmas tradition, Lamont spoke to the chamber audience at an event that has always generated interest among business leaders. The event traditionally draws a sellout crowd of more than 800 people to a breakfast at a large hotel ballroom in Cromwell in a festive celebration. But this year’s event was switched to a luncheon and held online due to the ongoing pandemic.

Appearing with a Christmas tree behind him from the Governor’s Residence in Hartford, Lamont said Connecticut has fared better than some other states by balancing its budget last year and by having nearly $3.1 billion in the rainy day fund to help close projected budget gaps of $854 million in the current fiscal year and even higher deficits in the future. Despite the state’s relative strength, Lamont told the crowd that he understands the difficulties of running a small business because he did it for decades before becoming governor.

“I went through the ’08-’09 crash,” Lamont, who ran a cable company, said. “Early on [this year], we got a lot of support from [Paycheck Protection Program] loans. Connecticut got more PPP loans for small business per capita than just about any state. But now, it’s six or eight months later and the PPP has run out, and we’re in a pickle. ... We got 10,000 small grants, $5,000 grants, out to the very smallest businesses that are going out as we speak, At the same time, we’re going to be rolling out a $25 million small business grant program, and we’re going to get that up within a week. That’s not enough to take care of everybody. ... I hope it’s a bridge to the next round [of funding] we get from the federal government.”

Liquor stores, pawn shops, gun stores, vaping retailers and strip clubs, among others, were not eligible for the $5,000 grants.

The Middlesex chamber’s longtime president, Larry McHugh, said that businesses and residents will band together to overcome the long-running problems of COVID-19 that have led to high unemployment and reduced profits for many businesses.

“We will win this,” said McHugh, a former football coach. “We will come out on top.’'

After many months of difficulty, Lamont said the state is moving in the right direction as the vaccine will be distributed across the state in the coming months.

“There’s a sunrise out there,” he said. “We can see it.”

Christopher Keating can be reached at