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U.S. Chamber of Commerce grant program runs out of money in minutes

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C.,

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., offered $5,000 grants to eligible small businesses in low-income neighborhoods. Credit: Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla

A coronavirus grant program for small businesses ran out of money within minutes on Monday, its first day of taking applications for the $5,000 grants, officials said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Save Small Business Fund was "overloaded," leading its online application portal at savesmallbusiness.com to crash shortly after it opened at 3 p.m. 

"We will be reviewing applications on a rolling basis and could reopen the fund for applications if additional funds become available," said Amanda Byrd, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based chamber, which lobbies governments on behalf of businesses. "We understand that these are difficult times, and we wish we could help everyone who needs it."

She couldn't immediately say how much money was in the grant fund, though she said it includes contributions from business card supplier Vistaprint, drugmaker Merck, financial information service S&P Global and Travelers' Insurance.

Byrd said the chamber will seek more donations.

The grant fund's quick closure occurred as small business owners grow desperate for money to survive the coronavirus outbreak and shutdown of nonessential activities. Negotiations between Congress and the White House continue over replenishing two federal loan programs that ran out of money last week.

The chamber grants of $5,000 each went to businesses harmed by the virus that are located in low-income neighborhoods and have between three and 20 employees.

“Already, too many small businesses have shuttered, and millions more are teetering on the brink of permanent closure,” chamber president Suzanne Clark said in a statement before the grant funds were exhausted. “We cannot and will not allow our country’s critical small business sector to collapse.”

She and other chamber officials had expected to award grants on a weekly basis, with funds distributed three to five days after an application was approved.

Last week, the U.S. Small Business Administration suspended two loan programs -- the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans -- after they ran through $349 billion in federal loan guarantees and $17 billion in Treasury Department funds, respectively. Banks began taking PPP loan applications on April 3.

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