Manitou businesses hope for recovery funds

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The air in the Manitou Art Center was thick with frustration Monday evening as government officials walked small-business owners through the process of acquiring recovery funds in the aftermath of the city’s floods last summer.

“We are going to ensure that every county gets some funding,” Kelly Manning, state director of the Small Business Development Center, said about the Recover Colorado Business Grants Program. “We want to make sure that it is spread across so that this community here will be getting some type of funding.”

For many audience members, the frustrating part of the discussion on Small Business Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) was the program’s specificity. This round of the program applies only to businesses that sustained damage in the Sept. 12 floods — not those that suffered from August’s deluge.

“Whatever happened before Sept. 12 is apples and oranges for this program,” Manning said, prompting a few crowd members to vacate. “I know that this community has been tremendously affected before … but this is only for [those events].”

Twenty percent of the $62.8 million in Housing and Urban Development grants that have been allocated are available to Manitou Springs and other communities, while the other 80 percent are set aside for Boulder, Larimer and Weld counties, Manning said.

The offerings in place under this program are threefold:

• Grants of up to $10,000 ($25,000 for multiple businesses);

• Loans of up to $50,000; and

• Community grants of up to $150,000.

“Hopefully this program will start by the end of this month or the beginning of May [dates to be determined],” Manning said.

“I don’t know what the dollar amount will look like, but hopefully it will be substantial enough to provide more grants.”
– Kelly Manning

The deadline for Economic Injury Disaster Loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration is June 16 for September’s flooding and May 30 for floods that occurred in August.

Manning said the next round of funding could see $199 million in grant money spread across the state, which will help pay for around 10 percent of the estimated $2 billion in recovery funding not covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“I don’t know what the dollar amount will look like, but hopefully it will be substantial enough to provide more grants,” Manning said. “But we know that businesses don’t want to accrue any more debt.”

That was of primary concern for Safron Neusaenger, owner of former retail shop Safron of Manitou Springs. She asked during the meeting if she was still eligible for federal programs after acquiring a $20,000 small business loan through Colorado Springs-based Ent Federal Credit Union.

“Because of flooding and circumstances due to flooding … I lost my storefront,” Neusaenger said. “Do I now have to go apply for another loan in order to be eligible for another grant?”

Manning said that is where it can get a bit confusing for some people: In order to be considered for a grant through the program, one must first have applied for a loan.

Even if a business owner is denied a loan, he or she may still be eligible for the grant.

Neusaenger said she applied for an SBA loan after the disaster but was denied, prompting her to seek other funding sources. Now, she said, a grant would be ideal because it would allow her to avoid building more debt.

“I have enough debt for all of you,” she said, motioning to the crowd. “I can spread the debt around!”

Other Manitou business owners asked the three-person panel about their own circumstances, including a local rental property owner concerned about her eligibility for such programs.

“We have two vacation rentals in Manitou Springs and we received damage on Aug. 9 to one of our homes. Then our inquiries were down by about 80 percent after that,” she said. “We had minor flooding in September that we didn’t put in a claim for, because we couldn’t afford the $1,000 deductible for insurance.”

Manning said that although application for these things may appear to some as just another cost, it is preparation for the next round of funding that may be on the way.

“Don’t think that this is paperwork that is just going to go down the tubes — it’s really not,” said Rosy McDonough, who works on the SBDC’s Disaster Relief team. “If you get denied the first loan, you might be granted the second loan, and you will be prepared with a narrative with the financial documentation that you need.”

“We are really trying to truly help these businesses and do what’s right,” Manning said.