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With questions abound about the federal government’s sweeping Restaurant Revitalization Fund, the Mon Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted a webinar Wednesday to help local business owners better understand the new stimulus plan.

“It’s really important we get this out there and get this knowledge into the hands of small restaurant owners,” said Leanna Spada, executive director of the chamber.

Spada invited local representatives of the Small Business Administration to explain who is eligible and how to apply for the $28.6 billion earmarked for the food and drink industry in the recently passed American Rescue Plan Act.

“It is super-important because of the shape of what our hospitality members are in right now, and this is a wonderful program the SBA is rolling out,” Spada said after the 30-minute session. “It could be a game-change for a lot of our members and those in the industry that are struggling to get back during the pandemic.”

Regina Puzausky, the deputy director at SBA’s Pittsburgh District Office, told those in attendance that coming up with a strong plan will help their ability to receive the stimulus money.

“As with any grant program, your plan is going to be key to how you utilize the funds,” she said.

The funds can be used for payroll, mortgage obligations, utilities, maintenance, food and beverages, supplier costs and construction for COVID-19 safety enhancements such as outdoor seating, although they can’t be used for miscellaneous expansion.

Businesses can take their gross receipts from 2019 and subtract their 2020 gross amount from it to calculate their application request. Companies that opened in 2019 can take their average monthly gross that year and multiple them by 12 to compare them against 2020’s figures. Businesses that opened in 2020 can request an amount for eligible expenses between Feb. 15, 2020, and March 11, 2021.

The plan allows for up to $5 million per location, but cannot exceed $10 million per applicant with no more than 20 affiliated businesses. The minimum grant is $1,000.

There is a tiered fund schedule of $9.5 billion in grants that are targeted at businesses with smaller gross sales.

“They wanted to make sure the smallest of the smallest businesses had an opportunity to compete,” Puzausky said.

The application process opens Friday, but the online portal will be available beginning Monday. Business owners can apply through restaurants.sba.gov, a point-of-sale vendor or by telephone at 844-279-8898. Local assistance is also available online at www.sba.gov/local-assistance or by email at wpainfo@sba.gov.

Business owners who are women, veterans or from socially and economically disadvantaged groups will be given priority for the first three weeks of the program. The program will then open to everyone else after that initial period until the funds are exhausted.

Businesses that received PPP loans last year are eligible for this program as well, although those funds will be subtracted from the grant. But the money through the RRF do not have to be paid back, although they must be used by March 2023.

“This is not a loan,” said Dave Pinkosky, a business specialist in SBA’s Western District Office. “This is not something where you’re taking on any more debt. ... This is a true grant program.”

Spada praised the SBA for the webinar to help local business owners better understand the program.

“It is very important because each program has so many different rules and regulations and guidelines,” Spada said. “It gets very overwhelming and confusing.”

The video of Wednesday’s webinar will be posted on the Mon Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Facebook page. More information on the program can be found on the SBA’s website at www.sba.gov.

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