DENHAM SPRINGS — Merchants who primarily own small businesses in the city’s Historic Downtown and Antique Village areas gathered Sept. 4 at the Taste of Louisiana Café to learn all about the federally funded Louisiana Department of the Treasury’s Main Street Recovery Grant Program from state Treasurer John M. Schroder.

Schroder said that through the Unclaimed Property Division, his office is "trying to get money back to the people who have a legitimate claim to those funds, and now through the Main Street Recovery Grant Program we are trying to help small business owners who need financial support during these trying times.”

Throughout his address, Schroder urged the business owners to apply for funds through the program.

“The state Legislature decided to give my office the responsibility to distribute $275 million that has been set aside for small businesses in Louisiana. This is your money … all you have to do is apply. The process is not that difficult and these funds are grants, not loans, and you don’t have to pay the money back,” he said.

Schroder said that he has been traveling around the state making his plea to small-business owners in need of a financial boost.

Schroder explained that the Louisiana Main Street Recovery Grant Program is a new state law designed to reimburse eligible small business for up to $15,000 in expenses incurred due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Business owners can apply for grants to cover a wide variety of expenses associated with meeting public health requirements. Some of those Schroder listed were: signage to create social distancing measures; cleaning or disinfecting areas due to Covid-19; personal protective supplies for employees or customers; and equipment necessary for public health or to respond to changes in the business environment.

“Such things as equipment to screen employees or customers to ensure they are not positive for the virus, equipment to track employees or customers who have tested positive for COVID-19, and technology expenses to facilitate teleworking are all reimbursable,” he explained.

Rent for additional facilities or storage to allow for social distancing; facility renovation costs to promote social distancing such as partitions, shields and other fixtures; and temporary structures to promote social distancing can also be reimbursed, Schroder said.

He pointed out that business interruption costs can also be reimbursed through the recovery program. Among such items was the costs of employee payrolls; the lease cost of vehicles; rent of existing business locations; and equipment, utilities, supplies, insurance and professional costs for filing Main Street claims, not to exceed $500.

“This has been a lot of work, but I am excited to see how the program is unfolding," he said. "We have already received 21,000 applications and about 50% of them are eligible. We have already awarded about $25 million in grants, and we are just getting started. This program is designed for you, and I want you to feel free to contact me or my staff if you need assistance in making your request for a grant. My office is ready to be of assistance in helping you get the money you deserve.”

Repeatedly, Schroder told the merchants that the first requirement for obtaining a grant was that the applicant must have filed their Louisiana tax returns in 2018 or 2019, or plan to file in 2020. He said taxpayers who have applied for and received a tax extension can also apply for grants.

In response to questions about how to apply for a grant, Schroder said to visit LouisianaMainStreet.com for basic information about the program. For a complete list of eligibility requirements, applicants can visit LouisianaMainStreet.com/eligibility. To get started, those applying can download the user guide from the LouisianaMainStreet.com Resource Center and visit the state Treasurer’s Office at LouisianaMainStreet.com.

Schroder asked how many had applied for a grant through the Main Street Recovery Program and only a few hands went up. Among those responding was Al Bye, president of the Downtown Merchant’s Association and proprietor of the Theatre Antique Mall.

Bye said he had already received his check and held it up for Schroder to see. Bye said that he had had little difficulty in applying for the grant.

Denham Springs Mayor Gerard Landry, in introducing Schroder said, “I am excited that our state treasurer has taken the time to visit our city and meet with some of our small-business owners. John Schroder has been working hard to help small businesses obtain the Main Street grants and he is here to help us learn how to get these grants and how to overcome some roadblocks."

Landry added, "No one cares more about your businesses than you do and what you will learn here tonight could really help you keep your business going during these challenging times. We got through the great flood of 2016 and just when business was really picking up, the virus came along. We are blessed that people are coming to shop in our Downtown District, and I am so pleased that our merchants have made their shopping experiences a positive thing. We have to keep on making shopping in Denham Springs a pleasant experience so that the shoppers will want to come back.”