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Photo by YTCount on Unsplash

Supporting Economically Vulnerable Business Owners: American Express and Main Street America’s Backing Small Businesses Grant Program

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on small businesses in the United States, particularly those owned by people from historically marginalized communities. In response, American Express and Main Street America created the Backing Small Businesses grant program in 2021. The program provides funding to economically vulnerable small business owners, helping them recover from the pandemic and grow their businesses.

In its first year, the program awarded $1.65 million in grants to over 300 small business owners across the country. Now in its second year, the program has increased the number of grants awarded and total funding to more than $2.3 million. Starting on March 20, 2023, applications will open for 350 small business grants of $5,000 each to eligible businesses in the U.S. and territories.

In addition to the $5,000 grants, American Express and Main Street America are offering a new opportunity for grant recipients. If a business is awarded a $5,000 grant, they may be eligible to be considered for an additional $25,000 Enhancement Grant. To be considered for the enhancement grant, grant recipients will be required to submit a final grant report using a simple template provided. The report will include questions regarding how the grant money was spent, plus additional questions about how the business could use additional funding to expand on their small business grant project or fund a separate project. Businesses must showcase how, if selected, the project would further improve the business, while providing goods or services that address cultural, environmental, and/or access needs in the local community. A limited subset of 25 grantees will be selected to receive the additional $25,000 Enhancement Grant.

The Backing Small Businesses grant program seeks to support small businesses that meet certain criteria. The business must be at least 51% owned, operated, and controlled by small business owners who identify as Asian American and/or Pacific Islander, Black and/or African American, Hispanic and/or Latinx, Immigrants, Refugees, and/or Forcibly Displaced, Members of the LGBTQIA+ Community, Middle Eastern and/or North African, Native and/or Indigenous, People with Disabilities, Veterans, or Women. The business must also be in a “brick-and-mortar” location and operate in an older or historic main street, downtown, or commercial district in the United States. Home-based businesses, even those located in historic neighborhoods, are not eligible. Brick-and-mortar businesses located outside of historic downtowns and commercial corridors, including, but not limited to, office parks and shopping malls, are also not eligible. Additionally, the business must employ less than 20 full-time employees, have been in operation since January 1, 2022, and be a business entity in good standing in the state in which it was formed and the state in which it does business. Finally, the business must have an active business license in the state where it does business.

Eligible grant expenses include accessibility upgrades such as ramps, menu translations, and accessible website redesigns for visually impaired people. The grants may also be used for community events and programs, such as open mic nights, public educational/training workshops, hosting community fundraisers, and partnerships with other small businesses. Equipment and inventory, marketing, operational strategy, physical improvements, sustainability upgrades, and technology upgrades are all eligible expenses. Rent and utilities are also eligible.

Small businesses that receive grants through the Backing Small Businesses grant program have used the funding for a variety of projects. For example, one grant recipient used the funds to purchase a point of sale device, which enabled them to accept credit card payments and increased their sales by 50%. Another recipient used the funds

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