Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti (D-Manorhaven) spoke at a Roslyn Chamber of Commerce meeting last Thursday about an $800 million state program to give small businesses grants to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our small businesses are the economic driver of Long Island,” she said at the meeting, which was co-sponsored by the Manhasset Chamber of Commerce. “I mean, I feel like that’s what our economy is based on, so whatever we can do to give you guys the tools you need to recover and succeed is a good thing.” 

The grants will be used to cover various business costs, including payroll, rent and mortgage payments, insurance, utilities, personal protective equipment and other equipment costs necessary for compliance with COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Sillitti noted that most of the funds will be administered by the Empire State Development Corp., and the legislators’ goal is to have the program “up and running” by May 24.

While the grants will be open to everyone,  businesses with 10 or fewer employees, will be given priority. Sillitti said that priority will also be given to socially and economically disadvantaged business owners, which includes minority- and women-owned businesses, service-disabled veteran-owned businesses, veteran-owned businesses and businesses located in communities that were economically distressed before March 1, 2020.

Sillitti said that her office plans to create a packet with all of the information and instructions small businesses will need to benefit from the program.

“We’re going to give it out to our chambers for you to disperse to the business community, once we get all those details, which I’m hoping will also be in the next couple of weeks, so you guys are ready to hit the ground running the second those funds become available,” Sillitti said.

Other aspects of the state budget’s $1 billion allotment for small business, arts, entertainment and restaurant COVID-19 recovery were also discussed during the virtual meeting, including the Arts and Cultural Organization Recovery Grant Program. This $40 million program will provide grants to eligible arts and cultural nonprofit organizations through the New York State Council on the Arts.

Sillitti, who was elected to the state Assembly in November, also discussed her experience as a freshman member. 

“It has been interesting, and there’s definitely a learning curve. You know, we’re still remote, so we’re still doing things virtually. I thought it was important to go to Albany almost weekly,” Sillitti said. “I want to learn. I want the staff to see me, and the staff is there, they’re working. I’m able to get to know them, I get one-on-one time with people that I probably wouldn’t have gotten to see one-on-one if all 150 people were there. I’m learning by osmosis, by being in the chambers and learning how everything works.”

The assemblywoman concluded that while its development required a great deal of work, the budget was made to truly help New Yorkers.

“The budget process was a lot of late nights, and there was a lot of, you know, ‘upstate wanted things for this’ and ‘Long Island wanted stuff for that’ and trying to figure out the needs of all New Yorkers and help in this unprecedented time,” Sillitti said. “Honestly, thank god we got money from the federal government to plug some of the holes, because I don’t know what would’ve happened had we not gotten those funds … We want to help everybody no matter what, as best as we can.”

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