Application issue contributes to continued delay in business grants

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A week after an email of apology from the state, more than 2,100 small businesses and nonprofits are still waiting to learn the fate of their application for South Dakota’s COVID-19 small business relief grants. 

It’s a story KELOLAND News has followed since the applications were submitted in October.  Since then, we’ve heard a similar issue from many small business owners.

“We were told we had to redo some of the application,” Dick Murphy, the owner of Mrs. Murphy’s Irish Gifts said.

“My application was rejected for corrections twice,” Molten Audio owner Adam Ellsworth said.

“Then it said returned, but I didn’t know why,” Vanessens Hair Design owner Gloria Kolbeck said.

Nearly every applicant KELOLAND news has spoken with about the small business grant program has had their application returned for corrections.

“We got an email that said you have three days to get this back to us, you’re missing something on your form, but they wouldn’t tell us what it was,” Game Chest Owner Amanda Wermers said.

“The only information they gave me was that I had provided insufficient documentation, so I spent a day and I re-audited my whole application. I found nothing missing,” Ellsworth said.

After a week waiting for clarification from the grant program’s helpline, Ellsworth learned a dash mark was to blame.

“They came back and said my tax ID number had been broken, that was it, and so I wasted about a day’s work trying to track down one number,” Ellsworth said.

Ellsworth has a degree in computer science and spent many years as a web developer before starting his own business.  He says many of these kinds of clerical issues could have been resolved with some small validation changes to the online application.

“The actual application process is just from inside Salesforce, which is a good, quick way to roll out an application, I’m not saying that’s incorrect. But they did not put much effort into validation or things that would have saved tons of man-hours when it came time for processing,” Ellsworth said.

“With some limited time frames that we were working under, we learned a lot through that process and added those features as it went,” Cassie Stoeser with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development said.

Stoeser says the consulting firm running the program and applications did have to add manpower to help go through the many returned applications and learned to add the validation for later applicants.

“We did learn a lot during the period of time for applications for round one and we made some minor changes to the application that made it go a lot faster,” Stoeser said. “I think there were less returns on the second round of applications than the first round.”

As of Monday, 1,838 businesses and nonprofits from the October application process have received more than $143 million in grant money; 2,100 companies are still waiting for a response.  No grants have been issued for the December round of applications, but Stoeser says the state does expect to have both rounds of grants paid out by the end of the month.

“Now things are moving a lot faster, payments are going out the door a lot faster,” Stoeser said.

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