July 30, 2020

How municipalities have innovated SBA grant applications

Government agencies across the nation have long discussed the need to increase the speed of execution and agility of services to better serve constituents. Now, in the midst of COVID-19, local governments are doubling down on the conversation and embracing the need for change more than ever. When sweeping regulations created massive business interrupts for […]
Posted by Megan Wells

Government agencies across the nation have long discussed the need to increase the speed of execution and agility of services to better serve constituents. Now, in the midst of COVID-19, local governments are doubling down on the conversation and embracing the need for change more than ever.

When sweeping regulations created massive business interrupts for the nation’s businesses, government agencies – and their processes – were no exception to the rule. 

To reimagine the way they operate, individual government agencies are now investing in technology and architecture that enables them to withstand interruptions, and remain effective.  

In particular, Small Business Administration (SBA) grant applications have experienced a massive rethink. Local governments are working tirelessly to build new systems so they can distribute a historic amount of funding, and process a record number of applications while ensuring they adhere to an ever changing set of eligibility standards. 

[READ MORE: What is the CARES Act?]

Case in point: SeamlessDocs partners have received more than 5,000 applications via online forms they’ve created. No other type of form has received that volume of submissions in such a short span of time. 

Aside from being better equipped to handle the massive volume of submissions, digital applications are proving to be valuable a myriad of ways.

Municipalities are learning it’s vital to digitize applications

Everything about the ‘new normal’  is well… new. 

When it comes to SBA grant applications not only are government departments looking for new, contact-free solutions for accepting grant applications, but they are also working to create different eligibility standards for the suddenly increased number of grant options available for their constituents. 

To balance trial and error solutions, while simultaneously organizing an influx of applications, governments need more digital solutions to ease the process and conserve resources while qualifying and processing loans, and administering funding.  

(The cover page for Guilford County’s online grant application. Link to full form below.)

Digitization means agility

As with everything COVID related, change is constant. Which businesses can stay open, and under what rules, is a day-by-day game in some states. 

As new grant opportunities appear and we collect more data to understand which small business are most in need, government agencies benefit from agile tools that make it easy to create and edit SBA grant application forms in real-time: 

  • Adjusting criteria as needed
  • Opening and reopening applications as terms turn
  • Enforce deadlines better

Many counties have halted SBA applications because the funds on-hand have gotten exhausted, and then restarted submissions once more funding became available. 

Using a mail-based system during numerous program changes can become chaotic and unruly. Having the ability to start on stop applications online, can make for a more organized system and efficient process.

By partnering with SaaS companies, like SeamlessDocs, not only can departments get their forms online quickly, but they have the ability to stay agile and change with shifting standards. 

Digitization means customization 

Because of these unprecedented times, many cities and counties are unsure what eligibility standards will be the most effective for their communities. 

 For example, Lehigh Valley, PA, asks many questions about the:

  • Purpose of the grant
  • Amount requested
  • Previous grants awarded for COVID hardship

Whereas Guilford County, NC, requests more specific expense and debt details related to COVID before  granting assistance to local small businesses. 

In the case where proof of expenses or hardship is mandatory for an application, online forms also make it easier for the applicant to include attachments. 

Some departments are creating additional grant opportunities in niche segments. In Pennsylvania, officials are giving grant money through CDFIs to minority business owners who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

As counties and states have more opportunity to share information on which grant funding processes work and don’t, a digital process can help update and enhance SBA grant applications easily.

Talib Abdul Mujib is the owner of 1617 Barber Shop and Beauty Salon on Cecil B. Moore Avenue. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

(Talib Abdul Mujib is the owner of 1617 Barber Shop and Beauty Salon. Photo credit: Kimberly Paynter/WHYY via WHYY.org)

Examples of digital grant applications

As mentioned above, SeamlessDocs partners have launched a number of grant applications that have received more than 5,000 form submissions in just a few months. Some of these forms are:

Roll out payments faster 

Something we’ve seen repeated throughout recent history – starting with the 2009 stimulus checks, and now the COVID checks – is that the federal government has not been able to distribute funds fast enough to the American people during hardship.

Part of the issue government agencies faced, especially in 2009, was the antiquated systems that caused inability for departments to communicate effectively between one another. A modern approach, with digital systems, allows departments to cut down on time for grant deployment by:

  • Reducing friction between agencies
  • Having a more organized method of accessing and processing forms

With a digital process, businesses also avoid mail-in applications, which can be lost in the mail, delivered as incomplete paperwork, or with illegible handwriting, each of which delays the process. 

Now, with digital options, individual agencies have the power to process documents easily, and quickly to make their constituents more successful.