FORWARD Impact in NW Washington Disaster Grant Program
- Distributed $7,388,125 in disaster relief to more than 110 eligible businesses that sustained physical damage or economic loss due to the flooding that occurred between October 2021 and April 2022
- Collaborated with a coalition of community-based organizations to provide outreach and program support
- Conducted direct outreach to business applicants to gather attestations to ensure an equitable awarding and prevent fraudulent activity
“As a small business owner, I have many roles and tasks to perform to ensure business operations are running smoothly. With that, time is valuable. The overall process for the NW Disaster Grant Program was transparent, straightforward, and organized. Their communication was clear, efficient, and effective both via email and over the telephone. The individuals are caring and compassionate people. Overall, I had a great experience.”
Bellingham, Wedding & Event Rentals
In January 2023, the Washington State Department of Commerce partnered with FORWARD to award and distribute grants to eligible businesses in Northwest Washington that had sustained physical damage or economic loss due to the flooding that occurred between October 2021 and April 2022.
The Washington State Department of Commerce needed support to administer disaster relief funds quickly and securely. FORWARD provided comprehensive program administration support which includes program design, application intake and review, award distribution and reporting.
In collaboration with a coalition of Northwest Washington community-based organizations, the NW Washington Disaster Grant Program successfully administers $7,388,125 to 109 businesses, distributing an average award of $67,780.
What were the challenges?
Many businesses were unaware of the disaster relief program.
FORWARD led marketing and outreach for the program which included local media, radio ads, flyers, and social media content, in addition to outreach through community partners.
The Washington State Department of Commerce needed additional capacity to review applications and distribute awards.
FORWARD provided comprehensive program administration support and brought a team of specialists to determine eligibility, review applications, and process awards quickly, securely and equitably.
The Washington State Department of Commerce needed to ensure that funding was equitably awarded to businesses impacted by flooding.
FORWARD proactively reached out to all applicants to collect verbal attestations to ensure that they were impacted by the flooding and therefore eligible for funding.
Driving equity with data throughout the program lifecycle
The Northwest Washington Disaster Grant Program aimed to restore businesses to their pre-disaster state and with support from FORWARD, the program fully compensated businesses reporting losses below $150,000. Businesses with losses exceeding $150,000 were granted a maximum funding of $150,000. The program gathered 122 applications, with over 90% of applicants meeting all eligibility criteria and receiving approval and payment.
Our goal was to grant eligible businesses an award that restores them to a state of wholeness, while ensuring that the compensation does not exceed their reported losses.
As part of our efforts to ensure that the program was accessible and equitable to all impacted businesses, we also worked with the Washington Department of Commerce to design program guidelines that took into account the unique needs of tribal businesses. Many tribal businesses lacked the Unique Entity Identifier (UEI) or Unified Business Identifier (UBI) number required to apply for the program, so we adjusted the guidelines so that the UEI was not required for tribal applications and to accept alternative forms of business validation, such as licenses or registrations.
To ensure an equitable distribution of funding, FORWARD’s outreach team closely collaborated with each business to capture precise and detailed information regarding claimed losses. Notably, the program experienced no instances of fraud.
In addition to direct outreach, we also allocated awards proportionally based on the level of impact experienced in each county. Objective criteria determined that Whatcom County, with the highest impact, should receive approximately 75% of the awards. Skagit County followed at 18%, while Clallam County received approximately 7% of the awards.
The FORWARD marketing team proactively created tailored materials to promote the program in each county, fostering awareness and encouraging participation. In response to a lower application rate in Clallam County, a targeted second campaign was launched to boost engagement.
Partnering with community-based organizations to reach impacted communities
To reach businesses impacted by the disaster, we teamed up with community-based organizations, which included the Port of Bellingham, the Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County, the Economic Development Council of Clallam County, and the Western Washington University Small Business Development Center, which had established relationships with local and tribal businesses. These partnerships allowed us to promote the program and provide on-the-ground application assistance while reaching more diverse and underserved communities.
“It was the best experience I’d had in trying to navigate and apply for a grant! Getting personal help from Asche as well as our case managers made it so much easier than my prior experiences. Being able to meet in person to apply was very beneficial. I’m so thankful for everyone involved in the NW Disaster Grant Program.”
Kaylene Edwards, Owner, Sumas Auto Parts & Repair
Throughout the program, FORWARD provided regular reporting to ensure that the Washington State Department to Commerce stayed in compliance with funding regulations.
Accelerating economic recovery in NW Washington
The partnership between FORWARD and the Washington State Department of Commerce, along with Northwest Washington community-based organizations, has been instrumental in the success of the NW Washington Disaster Grant Program. Together, we were able to administer approximately $8 million in funding to aid in the revitalization of NW Washington businesses impacted by flooding.