An additional $20 million is available for Philly small businesses

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Officials said Thursday that an additional $20 million in grants will soon be available to small businesses in Philadelphia through the federal CARES Act.

Businesses in low and moderate income neighborhoods will be prioritized, the city said, and the money will be distributed following the second and final round of grants from the Pennsylvania Statewide Small Business Assistance program.

The $20 million was sent directly to the city, which decided to allocate it to the state program instead of establishing its own initiative, according to Mayor Jim Kenney’s office.

City officials said the statewide program is expected to announce recipients next week, and the new funding will be used to help businesses that weren’t selected.

Just over $20 million was doled out to 1,123 Philadelphia firms when the first round of grants went out last month. A city-run relief fund also distributed $13.3 million to more than 2,000 businesses earlier this year.

However, the need continues to outweigh what’s available. Local businesses could use more than $300 million to make up for COVID-19-related losses, Kenney’s office said.

The School District of Philadelphia, meanwhile, continues to work to make sure buildings are ready for a potential phased-in return of students, possibly as early as mid-November.

New District Chief Operating Officer Reggie McNeal said staff have been installing partitions, setting up hand sanitizer stations, conducting deep cleaning and assessing ventilation systems. He said he is “fairly confident” the schools will be ready to go.

Negotiators from the district and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers have yet to reach a deal on a new contract, but Superintendent William Hite said progress is being made.

PFT President Jerry Jordan said the sides are hammering out issues relating to health and safety. He added that they are also seeking a one-year extension similar to what unionized city workers signed earlier in the pandemic. Those deals included a raise of between 2% and 2.5%.

Barring an influx of federal money, the public school system is facing serious financial woes, which could force school closures and mass layoffs during the next budget season, Hite said.

“We would have to consider almost everything,” he added.

Philadelphia reported 107 new coronavirus cases Thursday, and two additional deaths, bringing the city’s toll to 1,791.

Health Department contact tracers continue to reach out to those who test positive. Last week, they got in touch with nearly 70% of new cases and were able to get 78% of contacts to agree to self-quarantine.

Earlier this week, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration rolled out a new cell phone app to facilitate contact tracing, and it had generated 70,000 downloads as of Thursday afternoon, according to the state.

COVID Alert PA notifies users if they have been in close proximity to someone who tests positive for the virus by using Bluetooth technology to sense when two phones with the app are near each other.

It documents when a user gets within 6 feet of another person for at least 15 minutes. If that person later tests positive, they receive a code from state contact tracers to put in the app and the user receives an alert.

The app does not use GPS, location services or geographical information, and it does not collect, transit or store personal information, officials said.

To find the app, go to your phone’s app store and type in “covid alert pa.”

PHOTO: Parks and Recreation

In other COVID-19-related news, the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation is extending its free drive-in movie series for an additional four weeks, through the end of October.

A variety of Halloween-themed films will be screened on Wednesday and Friday nights starting at 7 p.m. throughout October in the parking lot in front of the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Fairmount Park. There will be double features on three Friday nights.

Doors open at 5:30 p.m., and viewers must wear a mask if they exit their vehicle.

Free tickets can be reserved online. The six-week series was set to end Friday.

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