A state emergency grant program has been expanded to allow larger employers, new companies and others to access $95 million to help sustain their operations through the economic downturn.

Starting Wednesday, businesses and nonprofits with up to 250 employees, those less than a year old, and licensed childcare and behavioral health organizations can apply for grants from the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. Up to $5 million of the funding will be reserved for businesses less than a year old, which were not eligible in the first funding round.

The first phase of the $200 million grant program was open only to businesses and nonprofits with 50 or fewer employees.

“In the first phase of our program, we focused laser-like on the economic viability of small businesses and nonprofits, entities that may have fallen through the cracks of other relief programs and needed support,” Gov. Janet Mills said in a statement Tuesday. “Now, with $95 million remaining grant funding, we are launching the second phase to make sure that as many eligible businesses as possible can have some financial relief.”

Rules from the first program phase still apply, including a requirement that grant recipients be based in Maine. Grant amounts are calculated as a proportion of the overall losses sustained by applicants.

Employers can begin applying for grants on Wednesday until midnight on Oct. 23. Grant awards are expected in late November. The grants can be used to cover business expenses including payroll, rent, mortgage and utility payments, replenishing inventory or other reopening expenses, as well as for buying required personal protective equipment and other equipment.

The first phase of the grant program attracted 2,100 eligible applicants, DECD reported. It anticipates allocating $105 million, with an average grant award of about $45,000. Roughly a third of the applicants came from the state’s hard-hit hospitality sector, including restaurants and hotels.

First phase grants attracted fewer applicants than some expected. Some local economic development organizations cited a confusing application process, limited public awareness of the program and businesses’ uncertainty they would be eligible for funding as reasons more organizations did not apply.

“We recognize that these awards won’t fully replace losses, but we are aiming to help keep as many business viable as possible while they develop a path forward,” DECD Commissioner Heather Johnson said in a statement.

The grant programs are funded with money provided to the state through the federal CARES Act that Congress passed in March.


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