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Wolf outlines help for businesses after coronavirus closures

Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday introduced a grant program to help small businesses hurt by the state’s coronavirus closure.

Enacted as part of the recently approved state budget, the program will provide $225 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act money to cover operating expenses incurred during the shutdown and subsequent reopening, including training and guidance costs as businesses “stabilize and relaunch,” according to a news release.

Altoona Blair County Development Corp. CEO Steve McKnight is hopeful that Blair County businesses can take advantage of the program.

“We’re just learning about this,” McKnight said. “We’re definitely going to quickly educate ourselves on the details.”

The money — part of $2.6 billion in CARES Act stimulus received by the state — will be distributed through Community Development Financial Institutions.

CDFIs are “are specialized community-based financial institutions with a primary mission to promote economic development by providing financial products and services to people and communities underserved by traditional financial institutions, particularly in low-income communities,” according to cdfi.org.

They include community development banks, credit unions, nonprofit loan funds and venture capital funds, according to the website.

There are no CDFIs in Blair County, according to McKnight and a listing on mycnote.com.

They tend to be prevalent in big cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, McKnight said.

The closest CDFI to Altoona is in Johnstown, according to the listing.

ABCD has worked in the past with a CDFI called The Progress Fund from Greensburg, McKnight said.

ABCD is open to forming a partnership with any organization that can help direct some of the money to Blair businesses, he said.

The pandemic is easing and “light is finally at the end of the tunnel,” said Wolf on a webcast Monday.

But more needs to be done, and if the state fails to help businesses damaged by the shutdown like florists, barber shops and coffee shops, people will be walking through “empty downtowns,” Wolf said.

While the money will go through CDFIs, the Department of Community and Economic Development will oversee the distribution, Wolf said.

The state plans to get the money “out” by the end of the week, he said.

The administration is working with lawmakers on guidelines.

The funding is intended primarily for businesses that didn’t take advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program, Wolf said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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