For those readers of this column who also are subscribers to our chamber’s weekly e-newsletter, this topic should not be a surprise. Rarely do I cross-pollinate with the same information on both platforms, but honestly, these Thrive Maine grants are just that important, and I don’t think enough businesses know about them.

There are two opportunities for Maine businesses and nonprofits to get a portion of $58 million in COVID-relief funds as forgivable loans, and the first application is coming up in September. I encourage you to share this story with business owners you know so they’re aware these funds are out there. I know for important info like this I’d rather have three people send it to me, rather than three people assuming I saw it or that someone else sent it.

As laid out by the program’s website, “Thrive Maine is a forgivable loan program for businesses and nonprofits that demonstrate COVID-related negative economic impacts. The program is funded by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), an economic stimulus bill that was passed by the 117th United States Congress, with $58 million allocated to support Maine small businesses by the Legislature and Governor Mills under LD 1733 through the Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan.”

The program is being administered by the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME). The $58 million will be disbursed in two rounds ($29 million in each round), and the money is first-come, first-served, meaning once the funds are allocated, that’s it. To put this amount in perspective, $58 million is more money than FAME has given out in the entirety of its history since their founding in 1983.

Below, I have a few bullet points you must take a look at, but before that there are a few anecdotal things to know. First, the State of Maine, and FAME want to get this money into the hands of businesses to help in whatever way possible, so they will work with you to make this relief work, including being available prior to the applications to answer your questions. Secondly, you need to apply. That may sound silly, but some people think, “Oh, I don’t have time” or “The money will run out” or “I’m sure my need isn’t eligible,” but that’s hogwash. The money is there to help; if you need help, apply for it. The process isn’t overly complicated, though it will require some financial reports to prove your need, but again, they want to help you get this money.

I know all of that because the Town of Brunswick, the Brunswick Downtown Association and our chamber hosted a webinar last Tuesday with the Thrive Maine program director and FAME’s acting CEO to help answer our questions. If you’re interested in watching the webinar, check out our recent post on our Bath-Brunswick Regional Chamber Facebook page. The first 20 minutes are all about the broad details you need, and the last 40 minutes are a Q&A that gets into specific questions.

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Here are a few things I learned from the webinar:

• Check out details for the program yourself at famemaine.com (the Thrive Maine grants are under the Business Financing page, top right).
• The funds are first-come, first-served and will be disbursed in two rounds. One round starts this September and one early next year ($29 million in each round); you can apply in each round.
• All Maine businesses and nonprofits are eligible (including chambers of commerce/business associations who are 501(c)6 organizations and weren’t eligible for the first three rounds of programs like PPP).
• Awards have a minimum of $10,000 and a maximum of $2 million, but the money is divided into buckets where those needing $10K-$20K won’t be vying for money in the same bucket as those looking for $1M-$2M.
• All funds requested need to be tied to COVID-instigated losses, and there are three ways to apply for funds — you can only choose one:
1. Cashflow year vs. year (comparison of 2020 or 2021 to pre-pandemic year of 2019).
2. Expense increases (documented increases — price of inventory for instance due to shortages).
3. Capital improvements (a quoted/planned project put on hold by the pandemic which has an inflated quoted cost now due to pandemic changes).
• Applications do not open for round 1 on Sept. 1 — the launch date is still being decided, but it will be soon, likely mid-September.
• Once you calculate your funding request, you must deduct any previous federal funding you received from previous funding programs, including PPP.

A few time stamps with specific questions and potential issues you may have:

• UEI number (20:00 mark of the webinar) – In order to get any funds from the federal government, your organization needs a UEI (unique entity identifier) number. This used to be a DUNS number, but DUNS is no longer. You must apply for this number online and it can take a few weeks — meaning, you should do this ASAP. I’m getting an UEI number for the chamber, and I anticipate once I figure it out I will be creating a step-by-step guide, so email me with questions.
• 2021 tax extension (33:30 mark of the webinar) – If you filed an extension, you can still apply. A 2021 tax return is best, but in lieu of that, if you filed an extension, you will need to provide more information and financial statements just so FAME understands your financial situation.
• What can nonprofits apply for? (42:00 mark of the webinar) – Is loss of membership covered? Less fundraising event revenue? Reduced donations? Asking those questions now of FAME representatives before the applications open will serve you best.

Take a look at the webinar — it’s well worth the 60 minutes — and if you have program questions, Laura and Carlos’ contact information at FAME is in the presentation. If you need my help, email me at [email protected], and I will do my best to answer what I can.

Cory King is the executive director of the Bath-Brunswick Regional Chamber.

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