A day after announcing new business restrictions aimed at preventing a post-Christmas boom of COVID-19 cases, Gov. Charlie Baker said Massachusetts restaurants, retailers and other small businesses hurt by the pandemic will be eligible for grants through a new $668 million small business relief fund operated by the state.
Baker said qualifying businesses will be eligible for grants of up to $75,000 or three-months of operating expenses to help pay for salaries, utilities, rent, debt or other expenses.
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The money to pay for the program will come, in part, from the flexibility the new federal stimulus bill passed this week by Congress will give the state to reallocate existing resources. The governor urged President Donald Trump to sign the stimulus bill.
"The president obviously signaled some uncertainty with the bill currently before him," Baker said. "Neither the commonwealth nor the country should be required to wait any longer for this relief. Washington took a long time to get to a deal. They need to put poltiics aside and support the American people."
The grants will be administered by the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation, and businesses who have already applied for a smaller $50 million grant program will not have to reapply. The first grants will be awarded to those who could not be funded in the first round of funding, and a second two-week application window will open on Dec. 31.
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said eligible businesses will include restaurants, bars, caterers, indoor recreation and entertainment venues, gyms and fitness centers, event support professionals like photographers, nail salons, barbershops and retailers.
Additional information about the program is expected to be posted on the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation's website sometime next week, Baker said.
Baker announced a series of new restrictions Tuesday aimed at stemming the surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations since the Thanksgiving holiday. The new rules crack down on gatherings and businesses and require hospitals to halt most elective surgeries.
Starting Saturday and running until at least noon on Jan. 10, restaurants, movie theaters, performance venues, casinos, offices, places of worship, retail businesses, fitness centers, health clubs, libraries, golf facilities, driving and flight schools, arcades, museums, and "sectors not otherwise addressed" must limit their customer capacity to a maximum of 25%.
Tuesday was the second time this month that Baker has announced new, more restrictive measures to combat the growing second surge of COVID-19. Earlier this month, he announced that the state would move back a step in his phased reopening plan effective Dec. 13. That rollback meant capacity limits were lowered across an array of businesses, some indoor recreation venues were ordered to close again, and rules around mask-wearing and dining out were tightened.
On Wednesday, Baker urged the residents of Massachusetts to "hang in there a little longer."
"The vaccines are already here," he said. "About 35,000 people already had their first dose administered, and thousands and thousands more are on the way. I've said before that COVID feels like a hurricane that never leaves. But as we move forward into 2021, there are means and mechanisms coming to soften the blow, and hopefully -- with the arrival of the vaccine on a grand scale -- to put it somewhat in the rear-view mirror."
State House News Service contributed to this report.