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'So Happy': Pilsen Business Owner Credits Back To Business Grant Program To Stay Afloat During Pandemic

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Hundreds of millions of dollars are sitting, waiting to be claimed by Illinois small businesses trying to get back in the black.

CBS 2's Marie Saavedra is Working for Chicago, helping to get money in the hands of struggling business owners. And for one program, time is ticking away.

Consider this your one week warning. The state of Illinois continues to distribute American Rescue Plan money.

Its latest effort is targeting small businesses in communities and industries that COVID ravaged. And those funds are already making a difference.

"I'm Flor del Monte."

Inside the Pilsen storefront of Rosalva Ruiz, she arranges bouquets for companies and a couple's big days.

"Ninety percent is weddings, the other corporate. It brings us joy," Ruiz said.

But the pandemic took her business from two-three weddings a weekend, to four events in all of 2020.

"It was very difficult for us to sustain the business," Ruiz said.

A federal Paycheck Protection Program loan kept them open. And though business is coming back, 2021 saw huge price increases in all of their inventory.

"Especially the floral product, by 50-65%" Ruiz said. "So even though we have work, it's very hard to stay afloat."

So Ruiz looked for more help. And she found it, with the state's Back to Business Grant Program.

"We have $250 million for the hardest hit businesses, industries communities."

Sylvia Garcia is the director of Illinois' Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity that's running the effort. The first $24 million in grants went out last week. Including $20,000 to Flor del Monte.

"We are just so happy," Ruiz said.

Ruiz represents what the program aims to target. Small businesses in areas of high poverty and high number of COVID cases in hard hit industries. More than half of the recipients so far are people of color.

"We know the pandemic has exacerbated inequities that we've seen before so having an equity lens in everything we do is really critical," Garcia said.

There's more than $200 million left in the pot for applicants who get their information in by October 13. And Ruiz can't recommend it enough. She'll soon have an updated website and more cash to cover inflation because of it.

"It's going to help us to be ready for 2022," Ruiz said.

The application is online and Ruiz said other business owners should not be intimidated to fill it out.

If you need help, the state has activated different community groups across the Chicago area just to assist companies with the process.

Click here for a list of some organizations that can help.


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