Lightfoot offers 25% cash advance to small businesses, community organizations and nonprofits seeking federal relief funds

During a so-called “Readiness Summit” for potential grant recipients, Mayor Lori Lightfoot described the upfront ash as “bridge funding so smaller organizations can get their operations up and running quickly.”

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks to reporters during a press conference at City Hall, updating reporters on the current situation with the Chicago Teachers Union and their vote to go too remote learning, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Friday a plan to advance federal relief money to small businesses, community organizations and nonprofits.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Small businesses, community organizations and nonprofits seeking to tap into an avalanche of federal funds not seen since the 1930s will get 25% of the money upfront, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Friday.

Lightfoot offered the unprecedented cash advance during a first-ever virtual “Readiness Summit” Friday jointly hosted by the city, county and state government.

The goal is to explain to small businesses, community organizations and nonprofits that faced unprecedented challenges during the pandemic what they need to do to qualify for federal grants and comply with strict auditing and reporting requirements attached.

It’s not an easy process. There’s a ton of red tape to unravel.

“This new policy will allow eligible grant recipients to get 25% of the award in advance, essentially acting as bridge funding so smaller organizations can get their operations up and running quickly,” the mayor told summit participants.

“The faster we can send out these once-in-a-lifetime federal investments, the better prepared we will be to turn them into life-changing opportunities for our residents and the neighborhoods they call home.”

In response to questions from the Sun-Times, the mayor’s office said the cash advance policy would apply to “select subrecipients to the city who qualify based on financial hardship.” That “may include community organizations, nonprofits, and small businesses,” officials said.

Lightfoot once again portrayed the $1.9 billion of federal stimulus money earmarked for Chicago — along with President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill — as a “once-in-a-lifetime chance to bring about transformative change.”

But she did not sugarcoat the strings attached. Instead, the city offered help.

“I know that many of you are about the work, about the delivery of services — not about setting up a back-office with accountants and auditors and so forth. We understand that,” she said.

“We will be making an announcement later about how we’re gonna support you to do the work that needs to be done in delivery of services, but also make sure that you are in compliance without having to go and build up a whole new ... administrative infrastructure that nobody has the time or resources to be able to do. Stay tuned.”

Lightfoot then passed the virtual baton to her vanquished mayoral challenger: County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Preckwinkle noted that the federal government hasn’t made this level of investment in local units of government and the residents they serve “since the 1930s” under then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

That makes it imperative that the city, county and state coordinate efforts.

“This level of coordination is a heavy lift, for sure. But it’s precisely what we need to effectively and equitably steward this historic funding,” the board president said.

Preckwinkle argued that city, county and state officials have “many of the same goals and priorities” for federal money.

They all want to see “safer, healthier, more equitable and resilient” communities. They all want to “prioritize investments in proven strategies, services and programs” and target communities that need it most “without redundancy.”

Preckwinkle said an intergovernmental working group used data from fatal and nonfatal shootings in 2021 to “prioritize geographic areas with the highest rates of violence” for federal grants.

“Our plans are ambitious. They seek to address complex systemic issues, such as crime and violence and health and economic inequities. We know that this is a challenge. Almost a daunting challenge,” Preckwinkle told summit participants.

“However, we have two major assets that will leverage this work. The first is ARPA funding. And the second is you.”

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton thanked Lightfoot for ensuring Chicago community organizations, nonprofits and small businesses have the tools they need through this partnership.

“Small businesses and organizations deserve the tools to expand their reach and positively impact more lives,” Stratton said. “Our Black and Brown communities deserve investments that can close the racial wealth gap by putting their livelihoods at the forefront. You deserve government that works with you on those solutions … so you can leave this summit with answers you need all in hand to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime funding opportunity coming to all levels of government.”

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