Graphic courtesy of Shuttershock.
Graphic courtesy of Shuttershock.

Where can small businesses get aid during the COVID-19 shutdown?

While Congress fumbles over its disaster relief package for Americans, where can small businesses in Philadelphia and beyond get funding?


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The timeline of COVID-19 in the U.S. is getting murkier as the days pass and the case counts rise across the country.

More and more states are following the leads of New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey in ordering all non-essential businesses to close for the time being. 

While the mandate keeps people out of public and safer from opportunities to contract COVID-19, it has grinded many industries to a halt. The result is an explosion of applicants for unemployment as many small businesses cut staff to cope with major downturn in business.

In response, Congress has been debating over a massive $1.5 trillion relief bill for the country’s faltering economy. Of that total, $500 billion is said to be set aside for distressed companies, states and localities across the U.S.

As of the afternoon of March 23, Democrats in the Senate have blocked the bill from proceeding twice, citing major concerns with the bill’s lack of stated oversight for large companies. They want most of the aid to go to the workers rather than act as another massive bailout reminiscent of 2008.

With the federal government butting heads and helping no one, many local governments have stepped up to provide some resources for wavering small businesses.

Philadelphia small business relief

In Philadelphia, the city’s Department of Commerce has partnered with PIDC to launch the COVID-19 Small Business Relief Fund. 

The initiative is a tiered program aimed at providing grants and zero-interest loans to small businesses adversely affected by the shutdowns surrounding COVID-19’s spread in the city and around the country. It is also geared towards helping small businesses retain as many employees as possible, and avoid predatory lending. 

“We are acutely aware of the potentially devastating impact that the spread of COVID-19 is having on small businesses in Philadelphia and around the country,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “These businesses are the backbone of our city’s economy, and this fund will help some of our small businesses survive the COVID-19 crisis while also retaining as many jobs for workers as possible.”

In total, the fund has approximately $9.25 million to provide to applying small businesses — made up of an initial $9 million commitment from PIDC and the city, and a $250,000 donation from the Daniel B. and Florence E. Green Foundation. 

It will be distributed through two new grants and a new zero-interest loan, which are divided based on the amount of money the applying small business makes annually. 

Those making less than $500,000 a year can apply for a microenterprise grant worth $5,000. Small businesses making between $500,000 and $3 million annually are eligible for up to $25,000. The final amount is a $100,000 zero interest loan for businesses with annual revenue between three and five million dollars a year.   

Only small businesses making $5 million or less a year are eligible for funding.

There is one base application for all three funds, which is open now for submissions and available in English, Spanish and Mandarin. Eligible small businesses can apply for assistance here

Priority will be given to those small businesses that have experienced a loss of 50% or more in revenue, have a recovery plan in place, and commitment to retaining as many employees as possible.

Acting Commerce Director Sylvie Gallier Howard said applications will be accepted on a rolling basis, and businesses should have their responses within a week to 10 days after applying for assistance.

“Acting quickly will help get businesses the funding they need to continue operations and preserve jobs,” she said. 

Further support can also be found in some of the loans and grants provided by PIDC.

The U.S. Small Business Administration

Beyond Philadelphia, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is also offering Economic Injury Disaster Relief loans of up to $2 million to help cover any unpaid costs as a result of COVID-19.

The move came in response to a mandate from Congress, after it passed the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act on March 6 worth $8.3 billion. As part of the bill, $20 million was allocated to the SBA for COVID-19 disaster relief loans.

Loans obtained by small businesses through SBA have interest rates of 3.75% and are funded directly by the U.S. Treasury Department. They also have 30-year payback terms.

To apply for a loan, businesses must first sign-in or create an account with SBA. Any other questions can be directed to the SBA disaster assistance customer service center at 800-659-2955 or [email protected].


In the corporate world, Facebook is taking the lead in providing aid for small businesses within the 30 countries it operates (including the U.S.). In total, Facebook plans to give out $100 million in cash grants and ad credits to more than 30,000 small businesses affected by COVID-19. 

Applications for the grants are not open yet, but interested small businesses can sign up for updates here.


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