More than $3 million in loans doled out through business relief program
With another $2.7M available, county mulls how to move forward.
By Tyler Estep

Nearly $3.4 million in loans have already been distributed to local small businesses through DeKalb County’s COVID-19 relief program. Another $2.7 million is in the pipeline and expected to be handed out soon. 

And while officials say they’re proud of the difference they’ve made for the 250 or so qualifying businesses, they’re also presented with a conundrum: The money represents less than half of what the county set aside for the initiative.

Now, with the original application period closed and interest among qualified businesses seemingly lower than expected, officials are trying to figure out how to move forward.

“We want the money out the door. Trust me,” DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond said Tuesday during a County Commission meeting. “There’s no win for us in not loaning this money to businesses.”

DeKalb commissioners approved the small business loan program in August, setting aside $15 million from the county’s share of federal CARES Act funding. The idea was to make loans of up to $40,000 available  to help businesses hit hard by the pandemic cover things like payroll, employee benefits, mortgage interest or rent payments.

DeKalb-based businesses with fewer than 20 employees and annual revenues less than $1 million were eligible to apply to the program, which the county has tapped Citizens Trust Bank to administer.

Hundreds of business owners applied during a twoweek period in late August and early September.

As of Tuesday, 136 applicants had been approved and received their funding.

Eighty-one had been approved and were waiting to close on their loans.

Forty more applications had been reviewed and were pending at another step of the process.

Approved businesses include insurance firms, fitness centers, learning centers, auto sales and service shops, entertainment studios, hair salons and barber shops, officials said.

“Overall, we really are happy and pleased with what we’ve accomplished,” said Delores Crowell, DeKalb’s government affairs director.

The question, though, remains about how to get the remaining money distributed.

During the original application period, a total of 163 businesses submitted incomplete applications or were deemed ineligible.

Officials said Tuesday that part of the problem lies with many small businesses not having the existing structure or wherewithal to complete the involved application process for the program, which limits uses of the money to very specific purposes.

Through the DeKalb Chamber and Piedmont Technical College, the county has included classes and training as part of the program.

But it may not be enough.

“Unless we can get those people the skills they need to take the next step, it’s difficult to put them into a loan program that’s going to be audited at some point,” Thurmond said. “We’ve got to make sure we don’t put ourselves or the people we’re trying to help in a disadvantaged position.”

Thurmond said the county is working on a proposal for how to move forward and hopes to present it to commissioners next week.

It could involve reopening the application period and may require a bigger push to reach struggling businesses.