When President Donald Trump came to Kenosha following unrest that roiled the city, he had a promise for businesses damaged or burned in rioting.
At a roundtable with local business leaders and law enforcement held at Bradford High School during his visit to Kenosha on Sept. 1, Trump said the federal government would provide $1 million to local law enforcement and $42 million to support public safety statewide.
“I’m also providing nearly $4 million to support the small businesses that I talked about today that got burned up — burned down,” Trump said.
Local officials recently learned the $1 million promised for local law enforcement represents new dollars that will be available to the Kenosha Police Department and the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department.
But it appears the $4 million Trump referenced is not new money the federal government would provide to help small businesses recover from unrest in the city.
Instead, it was a grant that was part of a package created months earlier through the CARES Act, a coronavirus relief program approved by Congress in March.
That CARES Act program sent $4 million to the Kenosha Area Business Alliance to provide loans to small business owners who needed aid from business losses due to the virus. That grant to KABA, for COVID aid with the CARES Act funds, was announced by the U.S. Department of Commerce the same day Trump was telling business owners at Bradford High School that he was providing $4 million to support businesses affected by the riots.
Local government officials have been concerned that the president was referencing the previously approved program rather than new money, but they were having trouble getting answers.
Nine days after Trump visited the city, Mayor John Antaramian and County Executive Jim Kreuser wrote to Rep. Bryan Steil, looking for an answer.
“We are writing to seek clarification if the federal government will provide $4 million in new funds to Kenosha directed at recovery from the riots,” they wrote. “Or, was the president intending to re-allocate funds the Kenosha Area Business Alliance received from the federal government at the end of August through the CARES program?”
Steil responded in writing on Sept. 17.
“Numerous people in the community have reached out asking for clarity on the nearly $4 million President Trump offered to help Kenosha businesses rebuild,” Steil wrote. “In response to these questions, I reached out to both the Department of Commerce and the White House. In working with them, the Department of Commerce informed me that the dollars are available for Kenosha businesses impacted by both coronavirus and the recent unrest.”
Although Steil’s letter did not directly address whether the $4 million referenced in his letter was the CARES Act money, a representative of his office responded to a question about the letter this week saying the money was the CARES Act grant.
Becky Noble, marketing director for KABA, said the agency has not yet started accepting loan applications for the program. She said the agency is still trying to get answers on what the criteria are for businesses to be eligible.
“We have received no money yet, and the guidelines/criteria have not been confirmed,” Noble said in an email. “We have not received any applications yet — we don’t plan to open for applications until we know exactly what the parameters are.”
KABA is also administering a $4 million state grant directly tied to the unrest that will provide no-interest loans of up to $50,000 for affected businesses.
Local officials said they were disappointed the money referenced by Trump didn’t represent new dollars available for businesses struggling with costs of repairs and lost income.
“I’m sure that people who believed that it was a brand new $4 million would be disappointed to know that it was already earmarked before the unrest,” said Alderman Bill Siel, whose district includes downtown. “It’s a little bit disingenuous — part and parcel of a campaign stop.”
Kenosha City Administrator John Morrissey said he and other city officials have been reaching out to state and federal officials to request additional aid for the community. They seek funds to assist with rebuilding and revitalizing the neighborhoods that were affected.
Morrissey said the city has contacted Wisconsin’s senators and representatives and is trying to identify any program that could bring in additional aid. He said they met last week with leaders of state agencies to discuss the city’s need for help.
He said city officials suspected, but were not entirely sure, the $4 million Trump referenced was for the COVID-19 program.
Morrissey said city officials are hopeful that additional dollars will be available.
“We’re trying to see everyone we can to try to get additional money,” he said.
Alderman Jan Michalski’s district includes Uptown, where about a dozen businesses along 22nd Avenue and Roosevelt Road were destroyed by fires set during the second night of rioting. He said he has talked to business and building owners who are struggling as they try to resolve insurance issues. Some believe they will not be able to rebuild, he explained.
“I’m disappointed for sure,” Michalski said when he was told the promised $4 million was for coronavirus relief. “Oftentimes when you have federal grant money available, there are strings attached and they are very stringent about how you can use it and what you can use it for.”
Satpal Singh owns a multi-tenant commercial building that burned on 22nd Avenue in Uptown, along with a building on 22nd Avenue occupied by the Family Dollar store that was looted and has not reopened.
Singh said he has received a raze order from the city for the burned building and is having trouble getting answers from his insurance company. He is now working with a lawyer trying to seek an agreement on the coverage.
In the meantime, he said, his bank is demanding payment on his mortgages on the buildings, and he has no income available to pay for his loans, nor for the cleanup and raze costs.
“All the income has stopped, and I don’t even know if the insurance is going to cover this or not,” Singh said, sounding exasperated. “My building was full. They are all hoping they can stay and reopen, but I don’t have any money.”