LEAP to weed out rule breakers in latest round of business grants

Mid-sized Lansing businesses targeted for Small Business Survival Grants

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THURSDAY, Jan. 21 — State officials won’t necessarily allow violations of pandemic-related health orders to stand in the way of the latest round of grants for struggling businesses. But in Greater Lansing, that funding will be prioritized to those who have kept in line with the rules.

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. began accepting applications this month for grants of up to $20,000 to assist small businesses struggling with a coronavirus-related revenue slump.

MEDC officials acknowledged this week that those that had violated state epidemic orders in recent months wouldn’t necessarily be precluded from consideration for those grant funds.

But the Lansing Economic Area Partnership — which is charged with distributing more than $3 million of those grants in Ingham, Eaton and Clinton Counties — said priority will be given to “those businesses that played by the rules,” said LEAP CEO and President Bob Trezise.

“Those that played by the rules deserve to get in line ahead of those that didn’t,” he explained.

MEDC guidelines are based on the legislative requirements of the grant program, which does specifically include a question of whether the business had complied with state health orders. But that doesn’t mean each application will be fully vetted by the state, a spokeswoman said.

Trezise said LEAP, however, will be paying close attention to adherence to pandemic orders when it decides how to distribute 194 grants across the Greater Lansing region — relying heavily on self reporting, recent media reports and reports of state sanctions to spot bad actors.

Among those likely to be precluded from grant funding in Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties are the dozens of local businesses that have been issued cease-and-desist orders for violating pandemic-related orders from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Some have also lost licenses to serve food or alcohol, while others have faced fines for violations.

Beyond adherence to state orders, Trezise said LEAP will also judge businesses based on a point system where mid-sized businesses receive much more favor than very small enterprises.

“For instance, a business with one or three or five employees will get much fewer points than a business with say 40 or 50,” Trezise added. “Businesses that have larger employee pools will see their points decrease as well. We really want to target those mid-sized businesses.”

The Michigan Small Business Survival Grants are designed to assist small businesses in the state that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and subsequent orders meant to curb the virus. The program was part of the bipartisan pandemic aid package that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed in late December. Applications are due by noon  on Jan. 22. 

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