Tuesday, March 16, 2021 marks one year since the first restrictions on business activity and gatherings were enacted in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

The City’s response to the pandemic has been focused on protecting the health, safety, and welfare of all residents, while supporting businesses as best as possible through difficult shutdowns and other impacts.

Philadelphia’s local, small businesses have shown incredible resilience, and the City has implemented a variety of programs and services to help businesses through this difficult period. Last fall, the City released a report on how it will drive inclusive economic recovery moving forward.

Here’s a look back on what the Department of Commerce and other City departments have done over the last twelve months to help support local businesses during a period of unprecedented economic challenges:

Spring 2020

  • March 2020: The City and PIDC launched the Philadelphia COVID-19 Small Business Relief Fund on March 23, 2020, just one week after the City restricted all non-essential business activities. The program was designed to support Philadelphia small businesses, help maintain payroll obligations, and preserve jobs impacted by the spread of the virus. The City and PIDC ultimately distributed a total of $13.3 million in grants and loans to more than 2,000 business owners. More than 66 percent of grants went to minority-owned businesses.
  • March 2020: The Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I) launched online permitting on its eCLIPSE technology platform just days before the business activity restrictions. The pandemic has not stopped L&I’s permitting operation for a single day. On eCLIPSE, users can file applications, submit requested information, pay for and print out permits online 24/7.
  • March 2020: The Department of Revenue, along with the Philadelphia Water Department, suspended all water shutoffs for commercial properties, halting penalties and fees for late payments as well. Revenue extended the due date for 2020 property tax from March 31 to June 15, and the due dates for business taxes from April 15 to July 15. The City also launched a dedicated webpage that compiles all COVID-related tax guidance.
  • April 2020: The City fast-tracked hundreds of tax clearance certificates so businesses could take advantage of local relief measures. 
  • May 2020: The Department of Revenue created clear instructions for businesses to request a refund of Use and Occupancy (U&O) Tax they had prepaid and also kicked off a year-long outreach campaign to tax professionals and businesses about COVID-related tax news. 

Summer 2020

  • June 2020: Philadelphia was one of the first major cities to announce an expanded outdoor dining initiative, which has enabled at least 750 restaurants across the city to earn much-needed revenue by offering outdoor dining, safely. The initiative includes four new options for restaurants to operate outdoor dining.
  • June 2020: Through the Philadelphia Restore and Reopen program, the City, in partnership with The Merchants Fund, distributed more than $1.5 million in grants to 186 businesses after civil unrest in June 2020. More than 90 percent of all awards went to minority-owned businesses.
  • Summer 2020: The City released industry-specific reopening guidance for businesses, organizations, and institutions, which has been periodically updated ever since. Visit the Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 guidance page for the latest information.
  • July 2020: The City started a safe process for businesses to make appointments for in-person payments and receive in-person assistance at the License and Permit Center in the Municipal Services Building. The Department of Revenue also launched a new business tax payment agreement, specifically for businesses struggling to pay taxes due after March 1, 2020.
  • July 2020: The City announced a new Reopened with Care initiative with North Broad Renaissance (NBR) to help local businesses on commercial corridors reopen safely when the first pandemic restrictions were slowly lifted. The goal was to support businesses and restore consumer confidence by letting people know that businesses are following recommended safety procedures to keep customers safe.
  • August 2020: Through a partnership with City Council on the Neighborhood Business Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Program, the Department of Commerce distributed 10,000 PPE starter kits to small businesses on commercial corridors to help them reopen safely.

Fall 2020

  • October 2020: The City launched the Philadelphia Taking Care of Business (PHL TCB) Clean Corridors Program, a $7 million economic development initiative that expands the Department of Commerce’s existing commercial corridor cleaning efforts from 49 commercial corridors to 85 throughout the city. PHL TCB invests in people and small businesses by creating employment opportunities for residents and keeping Philadelphia’s neighborhood commercial corridors clean.
  • Fall 2020: The City of Philadelphia committed a total of $37 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to aid small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. This $37 million was directed to the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 Relief Pennsylvania Statewide Small Business Assistance program to support Philadelphia businesses who were unfunded after earlier rounds of the program.  
  • December 2020: The Department of Commerce launched the new Business Resource Finder, which helps connect entrepreneurs with organizations that offer guidance on starting, running, and growing a business.

Winter 2020-21

  • December 2020: The Department of Revenue announced a six-month pushback of the due date for paying the Refuse Collection fee, and also announced that restaurants affected by the November 2020 restrictions would not be subject to the U&O Tax for the portion of business space ordered closed. The City also created clear instructions for businesses to request a refund of the estimated BIRT they had prepaid.  
  • January 2021:  The City and PIDC launched the Philadelphia COVID-19 Restaurant and Gym Relief Program, which was specifically designed for businesses among the most adversely affected by the pandemic-related restrictions enacted in November 2020. Grants of up to $15,000 per business will be awarded to more than 900 businesses. 
  • January 2021: The Department of Revenue released a new form and process for businesses to request a Wage Tax refund on behalf of their non-resident employees.
  • February 2021: The City, along with its workforce and economic development partners Philadelphia Works and PIDC, announced a renewed commitment to advance equitable workforce development opportunities and align resources to lift Philadelphians out of poverty, including a $1 million investment in innovative workforce solutions that address workforce challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and exacerbated by long standing racial injustice.
  • February 2021: The Department of Revenue issued guidance regarding how tax-related changes in the CARES Act impact business tax filing in Philadelphia.
  • March 2021: The City and PIDC announced a new $17 million grant program as part of the Pennsylvania COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program (CHIRP)—a $145 million statewide fund created by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to alleviate revenue losses and pay eligible operating expenses for certain businesses in the hard-hit hospitality industry.
  • March 2021: The Department of Commerce’s Office of Business Services launched virtual one-on-one business support sessions to help businesses plan, launch, manage, and grow. Business Services Managers are available every second and fourth Monday each month from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. 
  • Ongoing: The Department of Commerce’s Office of Business Services has been on call throughout the pandemic, fielding over 10,000 calls from the business services hotline about COVID-related restrictions and financial resources. The Office of Businesses Services can help businesses navigate City services, understand regulations, as well as assist entrepreneurs through the process of opening, operating, and growing a business. They can be reached by calling 215-683-2100 or by emailing business@phila.gov

For many of these programs, the Department of Commerce worked closely with partner organizations to do extensive outreach to commercial corridors, community development corporations, and neighborhood nonprofit groups to spread awareness of available financial resources and business assistance.

While many challenges remain, the future looks bright for Philadelphia. With vaccine distribution underway and local businesses adapting and pivoting in so many ways, we look forward to continuing the hard work in rebuilding Philadelphia’s economy in an inclusive, equitable way.