The Fighting Chance Fund, which has provided more than $5 million in emergency relief to local small businesses impacted by Covid-19, is phasing out Friday, Aug. 14 at 5 p.m., and money is still available.
In other words, if you own a small business and you haven’t applied yet, you’ve still got a little bit of time left, said Jessica Eilerman, manager of the St. Pete Greenhouse and small business liaison to the mayor’s office.
“We don’t want any of our businesses to feel alone,” she said. “We want them to know we’re there for them during these uncertain times.”
Fighting Chance, which launched its first round of funding in April, was initially aimed at providing aid to retailers, restaurants and bars and service-based businesses owned by St. Pete residents. The final two rounds expanded to cover home-based businesses and businesses based in St. Pete whose owners live outside the city. The fund also provided financial assistance to individuals who’d lost their jobs or had their hours reduced due to the pandemic.
Initial funding for Fighting Chance totaled $6.5 million, and Eilerman said she expects the fund will have just under $1 million left once all the outstanding applications are processed. As of Thursday afternoon, 85 applications were still under review, and Eilerman predicts a little bit of a bump in applications as the deadline approaches.
The expectation was that the fund would be closer to zeroing out by this point, Eilerman said. However, after watching the number of applications level off over the last few weeks, she and her team decided to establish an end date.
“We were thinking it would be a big influx in round three when the eligibility was the widest it had been,” she said. “We did get a good amount of applications, but the numbers at the beginning were the highest we saw.”
More than 750 businesses received grants in rounds one and two, with an additional 400-plus getting funding in round three.
Now, as the program draws to a close, the focus is shifting toward what will be done with the remaining funds. There’s discussion about developing other incentive programs tied to the Fighting Chance concept while keeping an eye on what happens with the pandemic.
“We originally saw Fighting Chance as a bridge for helping get things back to normal,” Eilerman said. “What we’re seeing is that things continue to evolve and change for our businesses, and that this is becoming something that’s more long-term.”
That could mean that additional financial lifelines could be distributed in the future should Covid-19 force a repeat of what happened in the spring.
“We don’t know how this will go, and a potential second wave could cause closures again,” she said. “How do we position ourselves to have something left to be able to help our businesses?”
Eilerman, along with city leadership, will continue to work through ideas on how to best use the remaining funds to support small businesses. In the meantime, she recommends that businesses in need of assistance reach out to Pinellas CARES. Even those who have received Fighting Chance funding can still be eligible for grants through the county’s program. Business owners can also connect with The Greenhouse for help.