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City-funded grant to help Murphysboro businesses pay bills
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City-funded grant to help Murphysboro businesses pay bills

MURPHYSBORO — Murphysboro leaders have opened a city-funded grant aimed at aiding small businesses impacted by COVID-19.

It is no secret that small businesses have been hurting after executive orders from Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker limited travel for citizens and shut down all nonessential businesses. The closures are part of the effort to stem the spread of the sometimes deadly COVID-19 respiratory virus. Many businesses have struggled to make rent or utility payments, and even tax payments.

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Murphysboro Mayor Will Stephens said he, along with city employees Scott Evans and Sandra Ripley, developed the Murphysboro Economic Relief COVID-19 Event grant fund. Stephens said it utilizes $38,000 from an old small business revolving loan fund that was established about a decade ago — he said because of the way it was structured, the original program was not successful.

“It seemed like a good time to repurpose the money,” Stephens said of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Evans, a local CPA as well as the city's budget officer, said he had heard some of his clients talk about struggles finding resources through other grant programs, which made him and others wonder what the city could do.

After looking at the old revolving loan fund, and doing a lot of due diligence, Evans realized the funds in that account had no strings attached to the state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

Stephens and his team kept the process relatively simple. Businesses that were in good financial standing as of March 16, 2020, operating within Murphysboro's corporate limits, with 10 employees or fewer are eligible to have one general operating expense reimbursed by the city up to $1,000. This can be rent or mortgage payments, property and casualty payments, as well as utilities. It cannot be used for wages. Expenses incurred after Jan. 1, 2020 are applicable.

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Stephens said the goal for the MERCE grant is that it “eases some of the pressure to get through another month.” Pritzker has extended his stay-at-home order until the end of May.

The grant applications, available at the city’s website, murphysboro.com, are being considered on a first-come, first-served basis. Since they opened Monday, Stephens said at least 15 applications have been sent. But, with the $1,000 cap, Stephens said he thinks there will be more than enough to go around.

“It looks like the $38,000 is going to go pretty far,” Stephens said.

Stephens said that because Murphysboro is a small town, city employees are allowed to benefit from the grant, but applications are not prioritized based on employment by or affiliation with the city.

As for what happens after the $38,000 is spent, Stephens didn't rule out the city putting a bit more money back into the fund if the need is still there.

“Do you continue to have demand and how many people are left out in the cold?” Stephens said.

While there is benevolent aspect to the city’s opening of the MERCE grant, there’s a practical side, too.

“We realize this could be a down payment or investment in these businesses that provides such vital sales tax for the city to operate,” Evans said. Beyond that, Evans said, it’s just a show of good faith between the city and its business leaders.

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isaac.smith@thesouthern.com

618-351-5823

On Twitter: @ismithreports

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