City of Berkeley grants more than $1.7M to businesses, arts organizations

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The city of Berkeley released more than $1.7 million in grants Monday to local businesses and arts organizations that have been affected by the coronavirus.

The grants come from a $3 million fund created by the City Council, which allocated $1 million to the Arts Organization Continuity Grants program, $1 million to the Business Continuity Grants program and $1 million to expand the housing assistance program, which offers services to low-income renters, according to a City Council report. As of press time, $965,999 has been dispersed to small businesses and $790,445 has been dispersed to arts organizations.

“Berkeley’s small businesses and arts organizations are suffering, and they can’t wait for state and federal relief,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín in a press release. “When the shelter-in-place order was issued we knew our local economy was going to be hit hard, and we knew it was incumbent on us-in local government-to shield our community from the fallout of a global pandemic.”

The Office of Economic Development, or OED, managed the grant applications submitted by businesses and arts organizations after the applications opened March 30, according to the report. Applicants were required to provide identification information and proof of how the coronavirus has affected their profits.

The OED is also collaborating with businesses to help them attain state and federal relief, said Stefan Elgstrand, spokesperson for Arreguín, in an email.

“This is a one-time payment,” Elgstrand said in the email. “Funds must be used to cover payroll, rent, or working capital for the business to cover operational expenses.”

According to the report, the average grant awarded per business is $2,744, while the average grant for an arts organization is $16,818.

To further support the city financially with private donations, community leaders have founded the Berkeley Relief Fund and aim to match the city’s total funds, according to the report. Berkeley’s business leaders and residents have raised nearly $842,000 as of press time.

“We are continuing to fundraise for the Berkeley Relief Funds,” Elgstrand said in the email. “(We) hope to do a second round of funding which will allow us to expand the number of businesses that receive assistance.” 

The city has approximately 5,000 small businesses and more than 150 arts organizations, which provide crucial support for the city’s economy, according to the press release.

Those who received grants are a diverse group, representing Berkeley’s many businesses and nonprofits, according to the report.

“We certainly need more and that’s why we have the relief fund,” said John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association. “We’d hope more businesses receive more grants.”

Contact Amanda McNamara at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @amandamcnamara_uc.