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Thousands of DC small businesses turn to city for help as unemployment claims rise 1,200%

More than 4,000 small businesses are in the progress of completing or have completed applications to receive microgrants from DC.

WASHINGTON — Thousands of D.C. small businesses are looking to the city government for help as the coronavirus continues to slow the local economy.

This week, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the D.C. City Council opened the application process for the D.C. Small Business Recovery Microgrant Program.

The program offers microgrants of up to $25,000 for small businesses affected by the coronavirus’ spread. Locally based restaurants, retail stores and boutique hotels can apply to be a part of the program, so long as they meet the federal government’s definition of a small business. Independent contractors like D.C.-based artists, musicians and freelancers can participate in the program, too.

The program, which opened to applicants Tuesday, is funded by $25 million in District funds. Kate Hartig, interim director of communications for the deputy mayor for planning & economic development, said that, as of Thursday afternoon, 1,134 D.C. businesses had completed grant applications.

According to Hartig, another 3,203 grant applications are still in progress.

Sprig and Sprout, a fast-casual Vietnamese restaurant located in D.C.’s Glover Park neighborhood, recently submitted a grant application, according to owner Jennifer Hoang. She said the last few days have been scary, quiet and stressful.

“We had a bad day a couple of days ago where we thought about closing the doors and just going, 'Okay, lets see what happens,'” Hoang said.

Below: Sprig and Sprout owner Jennifer Hoang talks about the coronavirus pandemic's effects on her business and her workers.

According to the District, the grants are meant to cover employee salaries, rent and inventory, among other things.

Hoang said she and her husband have already had to let half of their staff go. She said they would use the grant money to keep the employees who remain.

“A lot of our staff is paycheck-to-paycheck,” she said. “They have a couple of weeks of savings, so they're in a whole world of hurt."

Kate Dean, the executive director of the Glover Park Main Street program, has been urging small businesses to apply for the District’s business grants since they first became available.

She said she believes the D.C. government has done a good job of providing small businesses avenues to assistance.

"They recognized, very early, the effect this would have on businesses across the city,” she said.

Below: Glover Park Main Street executive director Kate Dean talks about impact of coronavirus.

RELATED: DC unemployment could hit 20% if restaurant layoffs persist, leaders say

She said economic activity in Glover Park has come to a halt ever since non-essential businesses were ordered to close and restaurants were forced to operate as takeout and delivery locations only.

Dean said she is hopeful things will turn around dramatically once things get back to normal.

"This has been a true seismic event for small businesses, obviously everywhere in the country, not just in D.C.,” she said.

Dean added the D.C. Department of Small & Local Business Development, the grantor of D.C.’s Main Street program, has allowed Main Street to instantly infuse cash into unique programs to help local businesses.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department Bureau of Labor Statistics released statewide unemployment benefit claims numbers for the week that ended on March 21.

Government figures showed 41,882 Marylanders filed for unemployment benefits during that time. In Virginia, the state’s workers filed 46,885 unemployment benefit claims. In the District, 13,473 people did the same.

RELATED: Some DC restaurants, bars turn to alcohol deliveries to boost business

Between the three jurisdictions, unemployed workers made 94,457 more claims than the week prior – an increase of more than 1,200%.

The application process for D.C.’s microgrant program ends Tuesday, March 31, at 6 pm.

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