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Emma Shaw, a bartender at The Looking Glass in Janesville, serves a couple of drinks to customers seated at the outside bar.

JANESVILLE

The city council approved Monday modifications to the city’s COVID-19 microloan program that will specifically aid restaurants as the pandemic continues through winter.

Approval was unanimous with council member Jim Farrell absent.

Council member Paul Benson floated last month an idea to amend the council’s 2021 budget to allocate funds for a grant program aimed to help restaurants outfit their facilities for outdoor dining during winter.

Health officials say interacting with people outdoors rather than indoors can help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, which most commonly transfers from person to person in respiratory droplets expelled from noses and mouths when breathing or speaking.

Gathering in small groups outside should be accompanied by mask wearing and social distancing, officials say.

Restaurants and bars have been hit especially hard during the pandemic because of the spring shutdown, occupancy restrictions and recommendations against gathering indoors, said Gale Price, economic development director.

City staff warned against Benson’s idea for a grant program because the city is not familiar with running grant programs. However, the city is well versed in running loan programs, which allow money to continue circulating through the city for other causes once loans are repaid, Price said.

The council in June passed the microloan program designed to help any small business get through the pandemic, but so far only one business has applied, Price said.

Some business owners are not comfortable taking on more debt during uncertain times and others said the application process was too cumbersome, Price has said.

The following modifications were made Monday to encourage restaurants to apply:

  • Allow payment deferment for 12 months as opposed to three months.
  • Allow for 0% interest as opposed to 2%.
  • Allow for five-year repayment as opposed to four years.
  • Reduce the amount of paperwork necessary to apply for all businesses.

Benson applauded Price and city staff for coming up with a better program than his that allows businesses to get money quickly to address pandemic-related concerns.

Benson encouraged Price to put a lot of effort into getting the word out and educating businesses about the program.

The microloan program offers unsecured loans, which do not require collateral, according to a city memo.

Loans of $5,000 per business will be available.

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