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Pritzker Visits Urbana To Promote Grants For COVID-Stricken Businesses

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, announcing the first round of Illinois Business Interruption Grants for small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Thursday, outside one of the BIG recipients, the Wood N' Hog barbecue restaurant in Urbana. Wood N' Hog co-owner Michael McDonald is at far right. Also seen: Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin (left) and St. Rep. Carol Ammons (right).

URBANA – Gov. J.B. Pritzker visited a barbecue restaurant in Urbana Thursday to showcase the first round of grants from a new state program to help small businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The governor says Illinois’ new Business Interruption Grants, or BIG, will help small businesses that haven’t been helped by the federal government’s Payment Protection Program, or PPP, loan program.

“From Joe’s Brewery to Raw Fitness, Oishi Hibachi Steakhouse to Amara Yoga, these businesses are part of the fabric of our communities,” said Pritzker, naming some of the Champaign-Urbana businesses that have received BIG grants. “And crucially, they have carried some of the most severe financial impacts of COVID-19.”

The first round of Business Interruption Grants also included the restaurant the governor visited. Pritzker held his news conference outside the Wood N’ Hog restaurant in Urbana. Co-owner Michael McDonald, who also operates a second Wood N’ Hog restaurant in Champaign, told the gathering that he had not sought a federal PPP loan because he didn’t think it was a realistic option for him.

 “We didn’t apply for the PPP loan, not because we wasn’t eligible, but because we didn’t have a relationship with banks,” said McDonald. “I mean, why would banks want to save us if they wasn’t willing to invest in us?”

The first round of BIG grants are going out to more than 2,600 small businesses in 78 of Illinois’ 102 counties. The grants range from $10,000 to $20,000 each, to be used for working capital expenses. McDonald said his two Wood N’ Hog restaurants will use the money for payroll and advertising.

Pritzker Has Hopes For U of I COVID-19 Test

In other comments during his Urbana stop, Gov. Pritzker told reporters he’s looking forward to the expanded use across the state of the University of Illinois’ saliva test for COVID-19.

U of I researchers developed the test for students and employees on the Urbana-Champaign campus, with the goal of frequent testing with quick results.

Pritzker said he could see the test being used at other universities across the state, public and private. But he said he wouldn’t stop there.

“It could be used for what’s called surveillance testing, which allows us to discover outbreaks across the state, wherever they may occur,” Pritzker added. “And again because these are significantly less expensive tests and still effective, it’s really a tremendous development.”

Pritzker said his office and the university are in talks about ways to use the U of I test. The university this week announced the creation of a new organization, Shield T3, as part of its effort to expand the reach of its COVID-19 testing program.

Meanwhile, Greenville University, a school in Bond County near St. Louis, with fewer than 900 students, says it will provide the U of I’s COVID-19 testing program to its students, and serve as a test site  to measure how well it works on a small college campus.

Picture of Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows

Jim Meadows has been covering local news for WILL Radio since 2000, with occasional periods as local host for Morning Edition and All Things Considered and a stint hosting WILL's old Focus talk show. He was previously a reporter at public radio station WCBU in Peoria.

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