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This story was updated Monday, March 30, 2020, at 6 p.m. with more information.

The city of Chattanooga is shaking loose $2.5 million in grants and loans for small business owners scrambling to understand how a massive $2.2 trillion federal aid package might help them weather the coronavirus crisis.

"This is a 90-day plan in three phases to make sure local businesses have grant and loan funding," Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said. "The main thing we're trying to do is to provide a bridge to the federal dollars you will see coming over the next couple of months."

The money had been set aside for economic development, but is better used in this moment to help sustain small businesses that have struggled as the coronavirus crisis has taken hold, Berke said.

"Days matter, weeks matter for these businesses that have seen their revenue evaporate," he said. "This is absolutely aimed at the places we know are hardest hit by the closures."

Last week, Berke ordered "non-essential" businesses in the city to temporarily close to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus. The mayor said he anticipates that more businesses will ultimately be ordered to close, whether through city or state action.

"It is likely that more businesses will be affected over the next several days, if not weeks, so we want to help as many of them as we can," he said.

The city aid comes in the form of grants of up to $5,000 or loans that range in size from $10,000 to $100,000. The details of loan interest and repayment have not been finalized, but there will be a minimum of six months no interest and no payments, Berke said. Most of the aid is for businesses with 50 or fewer employees, though some of the loans may go to businesses with under 100 employees, said Jermaine Freeman, the city's economic development officer.

MORE INFORMATION

For information about grants and loans through the city's COVID-19 Small Business Stabilization Fund, visit cha.city/covidresources

For information about Small Business Administration loans and grants, visit sba.gov/

"In this first round, we're really looking to target the little guys," Freeman said.

Meanwhile, a coalition of local small business support organizations is hosting daily calls to try and share knowledge and coordinate resources on the federal aid package finalized on Friday, said Lynn Chestnut, director of the Tennessee Small Business Development Center.

Even the task of understanding what is in the federal legislation is daunting at this point, he said.

"It's 800 pages," he said. "We're getting together daily to try to talk through the minutiae of what is happening as this information is flying at us left and right."

Mary Stargel, director of Innovation District programs at the nonprofit economic development Enterprise Center, has pulled together a range of experts from the city and the region to talk daily about how they can support business owners from every walk of life.

"It's really important that the information is clear and actionable," she said. "Right now, the challenge is that information has been changing so quickly. On the daily call, they're learning as much as they can as quickly as they can."

Contact Mary Fortune at mfortune@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6653. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.

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