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Grants denied for small businesses needing all the help they can get

“Unfortunately, we received more applications from businesses in need than there is funding,” the DOR wrote, denying a business of a grant.
Published: Dec. 26, 2020 at 7:18 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - In the struggle to stay afloat, tens of thousands of small businesses in Wisconsin have received federal grant money. But many other businesses have been denied, and one Madison restaurant says it was let down.

Lisa Ratze, the co-owner of Yola’s Café, says she got the first round of grant money from the federal CARES Act. According to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), which oversees the distribution, the $65 million dollar package went to about 24,000 businesses across the state.

Ratze got her share of $2,500, which covered the rent.

With additional federal funding, a second round of grants seemed more promising to Ratze. This time, it was a $120 million dollar package that would help about 35,000 businesses in Wisconsin, according to the WEDC.

But earlier this month Ratze learned that she was denied. “I was pretty much counting on that $5,000,” she said. “But when it was like ‘No, you’re not getting that $5,000,’ what are we going to do now? There’s not much hope after that.”

NBC15 obtained the email from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue sent to Ratze, which explained why she was denied the grant. The email began, “Unfortunately, we received more applications from businesses in need than there is funding.”

As part of the reason, Missy Hughes, the CEO and secretary of the WEDC, explained, businesses that did not get the first round of grants were prioritized. “We had many that received both,” she said. “We tried to rank as best we could. These were really tough decisions, so we tried to do data-driven decisions that made sense.”

Hughes said the WEDC also looked at questions like—who had to shut down or restrict their business. Only then, did officials send the check.

“Whether it’s $2,500 grant or a $5,000 grant, it’s not going to save a business. What we were trying to do is just to relieve a little bit of the pressure,” she said.

“We basically want to keep our employees employed,” Steve McKenzie, the owner of The Hilltop restaurant in Cross Plains, said. He, like Ratze, received the first round of grants but was denied the second.

“This is one of the reasons we’ve been advocating for federal dollars so much,” Hughes said, adding the state continues to need more resources.

This year, the WEDC says it provided more than $220 million to more than 100,000 businesses. This is greater than 300 times the amount of grants award in a routine year.

But at Yola’s Café, Ratze says numbers are, again, going down this season, with this month worse than the last. She started an online fundraiser called “Help Yola’s Cafe Survive,” in response.

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