With the coronavirus pandemic seemingly receding from Florida, at least for now, community leaders are talking about economic recovery.
The Volusia County Council has allocated $10 million to be used as grants for merchants, contractors, and companies with fewer than 50 workers to offset losses caused by the coronavirus and the mandatory shutdowns associated with it.
The $10 million is part of the $96 million the county is receiving under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act — CARES Act for short — passed by the Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in late March.
“I know several companies that have had 100-percent loss for a couple of months,” County Chair Ed Kelley said. “People are having to pay rent and utilities.”
The council May 19 modified the grant program it had approved earlier, allowing an increase in the payrolls of eligible businesses.
When it was first enacted, the small-business grant program provided that an established firm with 25 or fewer employees could apply for a grant of $3,000 to enable it to open once again.
Upon the recommendation of the county administration, the council revised the program to allow a company with as many as 50 people on its payroll to request a reopening grant of $5,000.
The council rallied unanimously behind the recommendation.
“They have to show that they’ve had a loss,” Volusia County Economic Development Director Helga Van Eckert said.
Van Eckert told the council her department has received 1,690 completed applications from local small businesses seeking assistance in reopening. Her staff, she said, is now reviewing the applications to determine eligibility for the grants.
Van Eckert also noted 216 of the applicants wrote on their forms that they intend to spend at least some of the grant dollars — if they receive them — on personal protective equipment, such as gloves and masks, as well as hand sanitizer and thermometers for determining someone’s temperature.
Thus far, Van Eckert said, none of the reopening grants for small businesses have been awarded. She also said businesses may not have to wait terribly long to get help through the program.
“I don’t expect that it will take very long,” Van Eckert said.
Volusia County Chief Financial Officer Ryan Ossowski ventured to say the funds would go out in “a week or less.”
On a related note, the council approved County Manager George Recktenwald’s recommendation to set aside $2.5 million of the $96 million in CARES funds Volusia is receiving for nonprofit organizations to request for their own reopening assistance.
“Following the model of the small-business grants may be the best model,” Deputy County Manager Suzanne Konchan advised the council.
Konchan also suggested the tax-exempt organizations have a physical location and address.
“We would like to recommend these nonprofits be brick and mortar,” she said.
The grant program for nonprofits is indeed similar to the one approved for for-profit businesses, in that a qualifying organization with no more than 25 employees may receive a grant of $3,000. To be eligible, a nonprofit organization must prove it lost revenue or donations during the pandemic shutdowns.
Upon the advice of Interim County Attorney Mike Dyer, the council did not include churches and private schools in the nonprofit-grant program.
“This is a delicate situation when you’re dealing with nonprofits,” Dyer said.
The council voted 6-1 in favor of extending grant relief to nonprofit groups. Kelley dissented.
Kelley had urged the council to wait until a future meeting before approving a grant program for nonprofits, but a majority of the body overrode his preference.
To help screen the requests from nonprofits seeking CARES grants, Konchan said the county government “may bring on the United Way for grant administration.”