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Norwich to set up program to assist small businesses hurt by COVID-19

Norwich — The city will ask the Norwich Community Development Corp. to take the lead in distributing federal community development block grant funds to assist small businesses facing hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The City Council last week approved a resolution designating NCDC, the city’s economic development agency, to administer $219,569 in CDBG funding the council allocated for small business relief back in June. The funding was part of a $506,569 CDBG coronavirus relief grant the city received in June.

But delays in receiving the funds and the need for guidance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on eligible uses held up the application for several months, Kathy Crees, supervisor of the city’s community development program said Monday. One major question resolved two weeks ago allows the funding to be used by businesses to pay utility bills to Norwich Public Utilities.

Crees said it makes sense to ask NCDC to administer the grant, because the agency has been in close contact with struggling businesses throughout the pandemic. NCDC also has applied for another $200,000 in a second CDBG coronavirus relief totaling $544,143 the city received in September.

NCDC President Jason Vincent told the City Council last week he plans to send out a mass mailing to all Norwich businesses who filed personal property tax forms with the city tax office in 2019 — only companies in business at least a year qualify for the grant — explaining the program and eligibility requirements. All CDBG funds must be used to benefit businesses owned by or employing people who are in low-income or moderate-income categories.

During the council meeting discussion, Alderman Derell Wilson said he would like to “really encourage” women-owned and minority-owned businesses to apply for the funding. He asked Vincent to print out the mailing in several languages, as the city has numerous businesses owned by immigrants with limited English skills.

In email discussions between Crees and Vincent to set up the program, Vincent said he planned to establish an independent committee of three to five people to review the applications. Vincent proposed the committee include Mayor Peter Nystrom or his designee, an NCDC board member who does not own a business in Norwich and a representative from the community development office.

NCDC will set up an online application process, likely based on a similar program set up in New London for that city’s CDBG coronavirus relief grant.

The Norwich grant administrators also have yet to determine how to prioritize applications, whether funding will be on a first-come, first-served approach, equal amounts divided among all applicants or whether funding would be granted on a pro-rated point system based on the business’ size or other factors.

Vincent said a news release and the mailings to businesses will be issued when the program is finalized.

c.bessette@theday.com

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