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Commissioners Urge Centre County Small Businesses to Apply for Relief Grants

by on September 09, 2020 3:39 PM

Centre County officials are encouraging local small businesses to apply for the COVID-19 Relief Block Grant program before the application deadline at 5 p.m. on Friday

The program is allotting $6 million in grants to small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Funding comes from the $14.7 million in CARES Act money awarded to the county earlier this summer to support businesses, municipalities, nonprofits, educational institutions, and county expenses associated with the pandemic.

Mary Kay Williams, the county's relief block grant coordinator, said at Tuesday's Board of Commissioners meeting that since the program opened on Aug. 28, 140 applications have been completed and 225 are in progress.

Commissioner Mark Higgins said those 365 applications are well below what the county expected to receive by now.

"At this point we were hoping to get maybe 800 to 1,000 applications and we’re not quite even halfway to the 800," Higgins said. "So please apply. There's plenty of money available. The commissioners would love to help out all the small businesses in Centre County."

To be eligible, a business must have fewer than 100 employees, be headquartered and operating in Centre County, and have experienced revenue losses resulting from the pandemic. Grants can be used by small business owners and sole-proprietors for a variety of purposes.

Williams stressed that even if a business has already received Paycheck Protection Program funds or other federal grant money, it is still eligible to apply. 

"This does not disqualify you at all," Williams said. "It just means you would not be the first batch of checks."

As of right now, there will be only one application round for small business grants, but checks will be distributed in batches. Higgins said the first group will be sent out to businesses that did not previously receive CARES Act funding, but that approved businesses that did would be included in the second batch. Whether a business has previously received CARES Act funding or not, all applications must be submitted by 5 p.m. on Friday.

The Penn State Small Business Development Center is assisting in the review and prioritization process and the county commissioners will decide grant awards.

Williams said SBDC expects to take about two weeks from the deadline to process and vet all the applications. They will then be forwarded to the commissioners who will begin making decisions about grant awards in early October.

Funding is not on a first-come, first-served basis, but rather applications will be evaluated based on need for funding, community impact, and the ability to spend program funds within established guidelines.

Funds must be distributed and spent by the end of the year. Board of Commissioners Chairman Michael Pipe said grant money used to cover revenue already lost between March and July will immediately be considered "spent." The application also has space for business owners to state anticipated future losses.

"For all the entities we talked to and all the specific organizations throughout the county, every one has said they have needs, so I don’t think there’s going to be an issue or any specific types of organizations that are going to have any hesitancy to spend the money," Pipe said.

The CARES Act funding was distributed to counties through the state and anything that is not distributed by the end of the year will be turned back, put into a pool and redistributed, Commissioner Steve Dershem said.

Though Williams and the commissioners emphasized that businesses should apply now, Pipe said they may discuss a potential availability of additional funds later this year year.

"We’re remaining flexible with the potential of having additional conversations about additional availability of funds for later in the year, because we want to recognize that things may change here," he said. "The key takeaway is apply, and if there’s another round potentially, we can’t guarantee, that but we can have that conversation. The most important thing is to apply, get the application in now."

The application and details about the requirements and process are available here.

A separate application will be made available for nonprofit organizations to seek grant funding. Williams said she is hopeful the nonprofit application will be released at 8 a.m. on Sept. 14 and will be open for two weeks. The county is working with Centre Foundation on the nonprofit grant process. A link to the application will be available on the Centre County Government website.

The county also has recently begin distributing allocation amounts and agreements to municipalities for block grants from the CARES Act money.

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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