With most of its business closed because of the coronavirus...

With most of its business closed because of the coronavirus crisis, Main Street in downtown Huntington on March 19, 2020, was much emptier than normal. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Small businesses that didn’t receive federal coronavirus relief have been given a second chance in the new state budget.

The 2021-22 spending plan, adopted by the State Legislature on Wednesday, creates a $800 million grant program for small firms and for-profit cultural institutions. The program will be administered by Empire State Development, the state’s primary business-aid agency.

Grant funds may be used to pay employee salaries, rent or mortgage payments, property taxes, insurance and utility bills. They also can be used to purchase masks and other personal protective equipment, or PPE, and ventilation systems and other equipment to comply with COVID safety regulations.

Priority will be given to applications from the smallest businesses, those owned by women, minority group members or veterans, or located in poor neighborhoods. Also eligible are firms that did not qualify for federal help such as Paycheck Protection Program loans or received too little funding.

State budget director Robert Mujica said, "This program is designed to supplement the federal grants that are available for small businesses," such as the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Advance Grant, both from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

"The main goal is to get people back to work ... [to] get those businesses going," he said, responding to a Newsday question during a virtual news conference on Wednesday from Albany. "ESD will be coming up with guidelines for the program. It’s very flexible, applications are going to go out quickly."

Separately, $25 million in grants have been set aside for hard-hit restaurants that provide meals to the poor and $35 million in tax credits to survive the pandemic. And there’s more than $100 million to aid musical and theatrical productions, primarily in New York City.

Still, local companies and institutions will benefit from the additional COVID relief.

"Small businesses are the backbone of the Long Island economy and thus $1 billion in new state aid could be a significant boost to help them recover from the pandemic," said Matthew Cohen, vice president of the Long Island Association business group.

The LIA had urged the legislature and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to include Nassau and Suffolk counties in a $100 million fund for converting offices, hotels and retail stores — vacated during the pandemic — to affordable housing. But the fund is limited to properties in New York City, according to budget legislation.

The Island will receive $10 million for one community as part of the annual $100 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative. Baldwin, Central Islip, Hicksville and Westbury have won the planning grants in the past.

The budget also provides up to $750 million for this year’s Regional Economic Development Councils contest, where the state’s 10 regions compete for grants and tax credits. Long Island has won $727 million for 885 projects in nine years. It’s been a big winner six out of nine times.

The contest was canceled last year due to the COVID-induced budget deficit, which Cuomo and the legislature have now closed with federal aid and state tax hikes on the wealthy and businesses.

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