RICHMOND, Va (WRIC)- Gov. Ralph Northam recently expanded which small businesses impacted by coronavirus restrictions are eligible for forgivable state grants.

The Rebuild VA Grant Fund launched on August 10th but most of the $70 million dollar pot is still up for grabs. The Virginia Small Business Financing Authority said–of the more than 3,200 applications they received in the first phase of the program–326 small businesses were awarded a total of $2.6 million.

VSBFA leadership said a significant portion of the applicants were denied in the first round because they had already received federal CARES Act funding, which is also sustaining the state program. Under the new criteria, those businesses are eligible for additional assistance as long as they spend the money on expenses not previously covered by federal dollars.

“When we initially launched Rebuild VA, we focused on reaching the small businesses and nonprofit organizations most in need,” said Gov. Northam in a statement. “I am deeply grateful for the work of our state agencies to swiftly adjust the parameters of this program so we can assist more Virginia businesses as they weather this health crisis and build back stronger.”

The Rebuild VA program is expected to help about 7,000 businesses with 25 employees or less. The grants will cover up to three times their average monthly eligible expenses with a maximum of $10,000.  The money has to be used on recurring costs, including salaries, paid sick leave, rent and personal protective equipment. 

John Kreckman, owner of Bombolini Pasta in Richmond, said the Paycheck Protection Program established under the CARES Act helped him keep his employees on the payroll, especially during the early months of the pandemic. Even though his primarily-take-out business hasn’t been hit as hard as some other restaurants, Kreckman said having the option to apply for another grant will give him a much needed cushion after months of decreased sales.

“Our food sales of prepared food are down by half at least,” Kreckman said. “Nobody really knows what is going to happen so we just keep going until you can’t go anymore.”

The expanded eligibility announcement comes a week after the state’s non-partisan commission found the agency in charge of Rebuild VA has not been effective in the past. The JLARC study furthered that the Virginia Small Business Financing Authority has routinely left the “vast majority” of funding for loan programs unspent.

Virginia Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity Director Tracey Wiley said, in the past, staff and resource shortages have impacted the scope of outreach. When it comes to Rebuild VA, she said they have more people power as multiple state agencies are collaborating to get the message out to businesses.

“We want to make sure our businesses are able to survive,” Wiley said. “We are fully staffed now so we think that we can certainly deploy the programs that we have available.”

Wiley said business owners who apply can expect to wait up to two weeks for a response. She said those who were previously denied under the old criteria should resubmit their application as soon as possible.

Learn more about the Rebuild VA Grant Fund’s new requirements here.