Despite his nervousness about an internet-crashing digital launch Tuesday, Louisiana Treasurer John Schroder was able on Thursday to tell COVID-affected Tangiphahoa Parish business owners that new grant money is available.

The Main Street Recovery Grant Program had received 14,000 applications as of Thursday when Schroder spoke at a Greater Hammond Chamber event at Florida Parishes Arena in Amite. He explained the ins and outs of the application process, encouraging small business owners to file claims for expenses incurred by the affects of the pandemic.

Businesses which qualify are those which were domiciled in Louisiana by March 1, 2020; suffered a COVID-related interruption of business; are at least 50 percent owned by one or more Louisiana residents; filed Louisiana taxes in 2018 or 2019 or will file in 2020; had no more than 50 employees as of March 1; have a location visited by customers or employees; are not part of a bigger business with more than 50 full-time workers; do not exist to advance partisan political activity or directly lobby federal or state officials; and do not derive income from passive investments without active participation in business operations.

Each applicant can receive up to $15,000 in reimbursement for their business. State Senate Bill 189, Act 311 set aside $275 million for Main Street Recovery Grant Program.

The program is set to run through Nov. 1, but Schroder advised business owners to apply as soon as they’re able.

“Don’t expect it to make it past August at the pace we’re going,” he said. “Don’t panic. There’s time. I think we’re going to make it through the first 21 days. Last week I really didn’t think we’d make it to that point. Every program that starts like this has crashed.”

Schroder explained the caveats of eligibility, primarily the fact that applications submitted by businesses which have already received any type of financial aid related to coronavirus will be held for 21 days before review for approval. This includes the $1,000 some businesses recently received due to ineligibility for PPP loans.

Previous aid will not disqualify a business for the Main Street Recovery funds, but besides initiating the 21-day holding period, the amount of previous aid received will be deducted from the $15,000 maximum amount of money available to the business. The application also does not allow businesses to claim expenses they’ve already claimed on previous aid.

“The law requires that you prove your expenses. You have to have invoices; you have to have receipts,” Schroder said.

Applicants will be required to prove that they haven’t already received other aid. For claims, Schroder encouraged applicants to gather all their receipts, bills and other relevant documents and scanning them into their computers before beginning the process.

Jeff Atkinson, co-owner of Amite bed-and-breakfast Bienvenue Mon Ami, has already submitted an application for the grant. He advised members of the audience to upload their documents in a way such that each category of expenses can be added to the application as one file, as the form only allows for one file to be added.

Payroll can be claimed in the program, as long as there is proper documentation for the expense and it can be shown to have been affected by the pandemic. For business owners who don’t own their facilities, rent is also eligible to be claimed.

Schroder said the types of items that can be claimed are anything businesses bought to adjust to the pandemic circumstances, such as new set ups to serve customers curbside or via drive-through, new equipment to accommodate changes, and anything bought to protect employees and customers and accommodate social distancing.

“If you have an expense, ask for it,” he said. “You give me a business, and I can almost get you there.”

He also encouraged applicants not to stop just because they’ve reached $15,000 in their claims. He said it’s important to claim anything that may be eligible, as some of what applicants submit may not be accepted, and then they would not have received as much as they could have.

His team estimated that as many as 10 percent of applicants might try to cheat the system and claim things that aren’t eligible. However, Schroder warned that 10,000 hours of review were logged in creation of the application by accountants, with auditors in mind, and anything claimed will be subject to audit.

Quick relief is available to people who have already received $1,000 or less in aid. This application track requires scanning in taxes filed from 2018 or 2019. Schroder said quick relief applicants can expect to receive their checks by Aug. 19 or 20.

Half the applications so far have been for quick relief.

Applications can be updated after submission, and updating the form does not mean the applicant loses their place in line.

Sole proprietors are eligible for the grant, but if they can’t prove they are sole proprietor with documentation, a group of CPAs will calculate an average amount of aid for those applicants.

“There is a misconception that you have to wait 21 days or be a minority for this program. It’s not true,” Schroder said. However, 80 percent of those helped so far by the grant are women or minority business owners, he said.

Those interested in applying can do so at louisianamainstreet.com.

For info about the grant and eligibility, call Schroder’s office at 225-347-0016. For those who have already started the application process, a helpline is available at 1-888-795-4947 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday.

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