The Oct. 8 deadline for small businesses and non-profit organizations to apply for CARES Act grants has come and gone and the numbers are in. In all, 203 small business and 51 non-profits applied for grants for as much as $20,000 to help assist them in businesses losses that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic and the forced closure of many businesses.
Jolene Foss, Executive Director of the Wright County Economic Development Partnership (WCEDP), said she was surprised by the number of businesses and non-profits that applied, since about 20 percent of them were submitted in the final 24 hours before the deadline.
WCEDP will be handling the first portion of the grant disbursement process – determining which applicants meet the criteria. It’s a work-intensive task, but one that was made easier through technology.
“One of the things that made the process go smoother was creating the online application platform,” Foss said. “We were able to receive everything electronically, so we weren’t swimming in a mountain of paperwork. The window to apply was a rather large one – going four weeks – and it brought in a lot of response. We have a lot of work to do in a short window of time to get them processed, make the decisions and gets the checks cut, because those who receive the grants have to get back to us by Nov. 15 to explain how the money was spent. That’s going to be a challenge.”
Not all of the applications came from Wright County, which was a requirement of the grant program. In fact, 16 came from countries in Africa, with most asking for $500,000 or more, including two requests for $5 million and $7 million, respectively. The reasons listed for what the grant funds would be used for included food, a tailoring shop, a poultry farm, a bakery, “international continental consultants,” a “God-caring hairdresser” and one that simply said “stuff.” As would be expected, all were immediately rejected.
Foss said it’s unclear how Wright County’s small business/non-profit grant program got on the radar of applicants from outside the United States, but she theorized that there are networks that monitor online content worldwide and that led some of them to Wright County’s CARES Act program as an opportunity to attempt to access money.
“I’m not sure how they found out about this halfway around the world and thought Wright County was a chance for them to get CARES Act money,” Foss said. “The county put out information about online and we sent post cards to every small business in the county informing them of this grant opportunity.”
As of Oct. 12, Foss had completed the initial processing of about half of the total applications. Of the first 125 of the 250 applications, 71 were preliminarily approved (to be forwarded to the review committee that will make recommendations to the county board), 14 more were approved pending additional documentation and 40 that were deemed ineligible. The eligibility requirements that were needed to be considered for a grant included that they must have been in business for more than one year, have a physical commercial location in Wright County, have more than one employee, have an active filing with the Minnesota Secretary of State and to provide documentation of a Department of Revenue tax ID.
The Wright County Board of Commissioners will be reviewing the candidates and expect to get checks into the hands of small businesses by the end of the month. Many small businesses, home businesses and non-profit organizations have struggled to make it through the COVID-19 crisis and the hope is that CARES Act grants will give those businesses a better chance to survive long-term and come back to their pre-COVID success when the pandemic finally runs its course.
“This is an ongoing process as we try to work our way through a global pandemic at the local level,” Foss said. “A lot of small businesses and non-profits in Wright County have really been struggling to keep their operations going during this time. The Wright County Board recognized that and made some of its CARES Act funding available to these groups in hopes of being able to save the small family businesses that are the backbone of so many communities.”