Bethel using COVID relief funds to help struggling small businesses

Bethel using COVID relief funds to help struggling small businesses

BETHEL — A portion of the town’s American Rescue Plan money is being used to establish a financial assistance program for local small businesses that have been struggling as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Bethel was awarded nearly $5.9 million in American Rescue Plan funding for use through 2022. The town has received half of the money so far.

The Board of Selectmen voted last week to allocate $350,000 of the federal stimulus money toward the creation of the Economic Development Commission-proposed Small Business Assistance Program, through which grants will be issued to qualifying small businesses in town.

Economic Development Director Janie Chrzescijanek said approved program funding will allow the EDC to support up to 70 local businesses in pandemic-induced financial straits — each of which will be able to apply for up to $5,000 in grant money.

“This program will provide limited, one-time direct financial assistance in the form of a grant to eligible Bethel small businesses that employ 25 or fewer employees and that have been adversely impacted by the COVID pandemic,” she told the Board of Selectmen last Tuesday.

Chrzescijanek said the EDC examined local and state surveys, which revealed that nearly all small businesses have been negatively affected by the pandemic in some way.

“Ninety-nine percent of businesses were impacted,” Chrzescijanek said. “Twenty percent of businesses were closed, 71 percent were in need of immediate cash flow and there was an 81 percent revenue decline.”

One Bethel business that closed following the COVID-19 outbreak was Bethel Cinema on Greenwood Avenue. Financial problems led to the permanent shutdown of the independently-owned movie theater early on in the pandemic.

Chrzescijanek said a survey by the Small Business Development Center showed that businesses are still experiencing declining revenue, increased expenses and decreased profitability, and are still in need of financial assistance.

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