Harlem non-profit gets unexpected financial help through Employee Retention Credit program

Photo courtesy of Harlem Grown

Harlem Grown, a non-profit organization based in Harlem, will be receiving a check for approximately $472,000 through the Employee Retention Credit (ERC) program thanks to S.J. Edwards, Inc. president and CEO Sharon Davis.

“For non-profits, every penny counts,” said Tony Hillery, founder and CEO of Harlem Grown. “This will be a vital shot in the arm for us. It’s a game changer!”

Harlem Grown is a lean, grassroots organization that exists to supply nutritious foods to hungry and unsheltered Harlem children. It also provides hands-on urban farming and sustainable growing experience for children. 

The organization currently operates 13 farms and has partnerships with eight Title 1 elementary schools. According to the United States Department of Education, to qualify as Title 1, the school must have “high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families.”

“Title 1 means our kids come to school for meals as well as an education,” Hillery said.

Like many other businesses, Harlem Grown was hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Hillery’s main concern was not his non-profit, it was the children.

“When they closed the schools, how do our children eat?” Hillery said.

During the pandemic, Harlem Grown pivoted and partnered with Harlem restaurants to provide meals free of charge to Harlem children and families in need. Hillery said this cemented the company as a pillar in the Harlem community.

Now, Harlem Grown is getting the help it needs to continue serving those in Harlem. 

Davis has worked with Harlem Grown for years, helping with HR and insurance tasks, according to Hillery. When Davis mentioned the ERC program to Hillery, he had never heard of it before. She was shocked, but also understood how these programs can get lost in legislation changes.

According to Davis, the ERC is basically a payroll tax refund that is part of the CARES Act where businesses can receive up to $26,000 per employee. When it was first introduced in March 2020, the PPP loan was more popular and accessible, and businesses could not apply for both a PPP loan and the ERC program. However, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 changed that. Businesses that received PPP loans can now also apply for the ERC program retroactively to 2020.

Davis filled out the necessary paperwork and submitted Harlem Grown for the ERC program. In December 2022, the non-profit found out they qualified and would receive almost half a million dollars.

“When they called me that they qualified and for how much they qualified for, I was jumping up and down for joy,” Davis said.

Davis is passionate about helping businesses get back on their feet, especially non-profits, like Harlem Grown, because they do the “heart work.” She has assisted businesses in securing millions of dollars, and she said that’s just the tip of the iceberg. She estimates that 80% of businesses probably qualify for the ERC program at least for a couple of quarters, if not all. Davis encourages businesses not to leave money on the table.

“My concern is people won’t apply or think that it’s too much work when it’s not,” said Davis. “And time is running out.”

The deadline to apply for the ERC program is April 15, 2024.

Money received from the ERC is not a loan, so it doesn’t need to be paid back, and there are no limitations on how one can use it.

Hillery plans to give his employees a much-needed increase and expanded benefits. He also hopes the funds will be enough to provide free summer camp for an additional five to six children.

Besides that, Hillery only has one other thing in his plans.

“Eradicating childhood hunger and childhood homelessness,” said Hillery. “A small thing like that.”