Lee's Lanes - A Cautionary Tale

Beth Welbers
Geneseo Republic
Empty parking lot of Lee's Lanes in Geneseo.

Brett Lohman of Geneseo is afraid even with the Covid Hospitality Grant that he was awarded, he may have trouble reopening his business. That's because he never got the money.

Nearly a year ago, Lohman applied for an Hospitality Emergency Grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. During the initial phase of the Covid 19 lockdown, all non-essential businesses were ordered closed. The purpose of these grants was to help retain employees, pay the utilities and bridge the gap until reopening could occur. 

On April 8, 2020, he was notified he had been awarded a $10,000 grant to help keep the business afloat during the subsequent months. On April 24, Lohman went online to sign the necessary documents via DocuSign. When the direct deposit documents were done, some of the information did not populate to the proper places, so Lohman corrected them, and uploaded them according to instructions.

Accion, a not for profit agency hired to administer the program for IDCEO, contacted him again on April 28, stating they had not received the document. He submitted the documents through DocuSign again and he has the email receipts to prove it. On April 29, Accion acknowledged via email they had the completed documents.

Then Lohman waited. And waited. And called. And waited.

On June 28, Lohman contacted John Ingram, the Entepreneur Relations Consultant with Accion, wondering where his grant was in the process. Ingram responded by pointing out the Docusign agreement that was received had been altered, and they could not accept the altered agreement.

By the time Ingram contacted Lohman, the relief funds were depleted.

“I apologize knowing that we weren’t able to help your business through this grant because of a technicality—however, the reality is that all funds for this grant have already been disbursed, and there is no longer any action we can take for your business,” wrote Ingram in an email to Lohman.  Accion and IDECO representatives went on to explain the other kinds of Covid-related programs they offered, and suggested that Lohman apply for one of them.

Lohman replied that no agent from Accion had contacted him by either phone, email or regular mail to let him know that immediate action was required to further the grant process. Ingram replied that the administering company was short staffed, and apologized for the lack of guidance through the process. Ingram then suggested that Lohman apply to another entity for a PPP loan. 

In June, the Happy Joes Pizza franchise housed inside the bowling alley closed.

Calls and emails that the Geneseo Republic sent to Accion's Ingram, now known as Allies for Community Business, were not responded to.

Lauren Huffman, deputy director with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity did respond, stating that the grant administration partner (Accion) could not accept the altered direct deposit document, as there was the possibility they might be fraudulent. Lohman said no one contacted him, and when the company did not receive an explanation, the funds were awarded to another applicant.

Huffman then went on to explain the other kinds of Covid-related programs they offered, and suggested that Lohman was urged to apply for one of them.

With more programs like this on the horizon, from the second $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, Huffman explained that investments had been made in customer and technical assistance, including hotlines and help desks to assist in the process.

That said, Lohman won a lottery out of the initial offering. He was one of the lucky 699 in 12,000. Additional grants or programs might not guarantee access to emergency funds, which is why he said he held on so long waiting for the Hospitality Grant.

The Federal Government sent $4,914,000,000 to the State of Illinois in 2020 out of the initial CARES Act, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Of that figure, the state sent the funds to various agencies to administer relief to hard hit families and businesses negatively impacted by the pandemic.

The program that Lohman applied to had $14 million to disburse among the 12,000 businesses that applied to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, 699 were selected to receive grants. The agency employed Accion, a non-profit company to administer the funds and select grant recipients by means of a lottery. Accion administered other IDCEO grants related to the CARES act for the state as well. 

A list taken from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Development's website show that $10,000 was awarded for most bars and restaurants. Hotels and convention centers awards ranged between $25,000 and $50,000. Several golf courses received $25,000.