Pine County has put together a plan to distribute over $3.6m in federal CARES Act funds to area nonprofits, food shelves and individuals in need – with nearly half earmarked for small businesses that have been harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown.
Minke said the county has met several times with representatives from the larger cities to discuss community needs and the criteria and process for business relief. County officials have also spoken with Lakes and Pines regarding use of the funds for housing assistance, Family Pathways for food assistance, and the Initiative Foundation for general guidance and technical assistance.
All funds must be spent on eligible expenditures related to the coronavirus public health emergency between March 1 and Dec. 1, 2020.
According to the current plan:
• $1.8m will be spent on business assistance. These funds will be used to provide grants to small businesses (50 employees or fewer) with a physical location in Pine County that have been harmed by the pandemic. Phase one contemplates $500,000 to be given out to businesses to reimburse documented expenditures related to the pandemic and to provide up to three months’ mortgage or lease payments. The total grant per business cannot exceed $10,000. The anticipated timeline would have a 10-day application period in August, a one-week review period, and grants issued the first week of September. The business must have suffered financial harm because of the pandemic, and must not be delinquent on taxes.
With the help of the Initiative Foundation, the county will set up an online portal where businesses can apply for the funds. Plans are for the portal to be open by August, with funds in the hands of businesses by Labor Day.
Commissioners raised concerns about what businesses might be able to access the funds, whether non-storefront businesses like farmers and home care would be eligible.
Minke noted that there are limits to how the CARES Act funds can be spent.
“This is not a reimbursement for lost revenue,” Minke said. “This is a reimbursement of expenses that you have incurred. And then, we also have an opportunity for mortgage and lease payments, up to three months. Our goal is to try to qualify as many businesses as we legitimately can.”
• $900,000 will be spent to reimburse Pine County for the direct costs associated with responding to the pandemic.
• $400,000 will be spent on nonprofit assistance. The specific criteria have not been developed yet. According to the report, one criterion could limit eligible nonprofits to 501 C (3) organizations.
• $356,478 will be put in contingency. As the report states: “There are four months remaining for this funding and during that time there will likely be new and/or unexpected demands.”
• $50,000 will go to Lakes & Pines to support rental and mortgage assistance programs.
• $40,000 will go to direct assistance to individuals through the county’s existing social service network under Pine County Health and Human Services.
• $30,000 will go to Family Pathways for food support.
The county board approved the division of funds into these categories and authorized the county administrator to enter agreements with third parties to assist with the administration and distribution of the CARES Act Funds.
Commissioners said the money should offer some help those hurt by the pandemic and shutdown.
“Hopefully we can get it out to the people that need it,” said Pine County Commissioner Josh Mohr.
The current plan for the breakdown of funds by category can be changed, and commissioners will review the spending plan twice a month and make those changes as they see fit as needs arise.