Honolulu to distribute $10M to small businesses hit by pandemic

Jan. 10—The city, partnering with the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, plans to award a total of $10 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to qualifying small businesses on Oahu that suffered economic impacts to their livelihoods due to the pandemic.

The city, partnering with the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, plans to award a total of $10 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to qualifying small businesses on Oahu that suffered economic impacts to their livelihoods due to the pandemic.

At a Monday news conference held inside Mayor Rick Blangiardi's office, the chamber and representatives from the city's Office of Economic Revitalization unveiled the Oahu Business Recovery grant program, which will allocate a share of the city's State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds to assist small businesses earning $75, 000 to $5 million and endured a drop in revenue of at least 25 % during the pandemic.

Starting Jan. 30 the program will take up 400 online applications from eligible small businesses at revitalizeoahu.org /oahubizgrant.

"We encourage all small businesses financially impacted by the pandemic to see if they can qualify, " said Amy Asselbaye, director of the Office of Economic Revitalization. "And if so, please take advantage of this program."

Asselbaye said the program will issue grants ranging from $15, 000 to $50, 000 to qualifying businesses, with awards based on revenue loss as determined by tax and financial records as well as business net income in 2020 and 2021 compared with net income reported in 2019, prior to the pandemic. Also, an applicant business must operate on Oahu, and at least one owner of the business must be a Hawaii resident.

In addition to the city, the chamber is partnering with local ethnic chambers in an effort to inform business owners for whom English is a second language on how to apply. To that end, the program will offer grant applications in Hawaiian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Tagalog and Spanish.

"The applications will be done on a first-come, first-served basis until grant funds are exhausted, " said Sherry Menor-McNamara, chamber president and CEO. While application does not guarantee funding, she said, "We encourage all small businesses to apply, including women-owned businesses, minorities, veterans and those from the LGBTQ community."

Menor-McNamara asserted that small businesses are the "heartbeat of our economy, " noting that many business owners spent "years and decades to build their businesses only to experience the worst time in such a short time period."

"Some of them took out loans, some took out their savings, some of them borrowed from family and friends, and so they were very devastated by the pandemic, " she said. "And even though we are a few years past " the height of the pandemic, "many of them are still climbing out of that deep hole. On top of that, many are facing other challenges such as the workforce shortage, inflation, supply chain issues and an economy where we don't know what will happen."

Menor-McNamara said the chamber estimates about 13, 000 businesses statewide folded due to the pandemic's impact on Hawaii's economy.

Among those affected by loss of revenue are wedding and events businesses. According to city staff referencing a weddings study, the average cost for a Hawaii wedding in 2019 was $32, 900. Based on that figure, the decline of marriages and wedding celebrations here in 2020 added up to an average monthly revenue loss of at least $12.7 million for that line of business.

Joseph Esser, owner of Joseph Esser Photography and president of the Oahu Wedding Association, said, "Many of our businesses were completely shut down during the pandemic." He added, "Because we are not 'brick and mortar' businesses, we didn't qualify for critical financial aid to stay afloat."

To help businesses prepare to apply for grants, the city and chamber will host a webinar at 2 p.m. today at OER's Facebook page, facebook.com /oer.honolulu. No Facebook account is needed to watch, and the webinar will stay on the Facebook page for future viewings.

Menor-McNamara said that over the next three weeks, the chamber will run social media campaigns as well as numerous webinars. For more information, contact Chamber of Commerce Hawaii at OahuBizGrant @cochahawaii.org.