CHICAGO (CBS) — Small businesses, gig workers, and other independent contractors in suburban Cook County will soon be able to apply for zero-interest loans to help them stem their losses from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced the county has provided the first $10 million for the new Community Recovery Fund, which will be administered by the non-profit Chicago Community Loan Fund.
“Small businesses, gig workers, and entrepreneurs are at the heart of municipalities throughout Cook County, and we’re doing all that we can to support them,” Preckwinkle said.
The fund is designed to provide immediate relief to small businesses and independent contractors who have been hurt most by the coronavirus outbreak, which has forced many businesses to close their doors.
“Many of us are deeply distressed thinking about how we will make it through coronavirus,” said suburban salon owner Stephanie Luster. “We’re wondering how to sustain our business expenses, how to reshape ourselves to reopen and how will we feed our families.”
Zero-interest loans of up to $20,000 will be available to small businesses in suburban Cook County. Zero-interest loans of up to $10,000 will be available to independent contractors in suburban Cook County.
To qualify, a small business must have fewer than 25 employees, and less than $3 million in revenue; and independent contractors must earn at least half their income through 1099 contract work, and make less than $100,000 in gross annual income.
“What makes this fund so unique is the focus on our most vulnerable businesses and gig workers,” Preckwinkle said.
Those who receive loans through the Community Recovery Fund will have five years to pay back the loan without interest, according to Xochitl Flores, bureau chief of economic development for Cook County.
The fund will be seeded with an initial $10 million investment from Cook County government, but Preckwinkle and Flores said officials will seek additional funding from private foundations, corporations, and other philanthropic organizations. The $10 million provided by the county is coming from the county’s corporate fund, as well as available federal funding through the Community Development Block Grant program.
“As loans are repaid, and as more federal, corporate, and philanthropic resources become available, we intend to continue to expand the program to assist as many suburban small businesses and 1099 independent contractors as possible,” Flores said.
While applications for the loans aren’t expected to be ready until mid-April, Flores said interested businesses and contractors can sign up for updates on the program online. Emails will be sent out to qualifying businesses who have signed up for updates.
The program is available only to businesses and contractors in suburban Cook County, but Preckwinkle and Flores noted the city of Chicago already has set up a $100 million loan program for small businesses in the city.