Nearly 700 small businesses get county COVID relief

Workforce Investment Board doles out $3.3 million to 671 qualifying businesses, hopes to give out remaining $4.2 million in early September

VISALIA – After almost a month of accepting applications, Tulare County and the Workforce Investment Board has doled out $3.3 million in COVID-19 relief grants to local small businesses.

Last week the Tulare County Board of Supervisors extended the COVID-19 business relief application deadline through Monday, Aug. 24. The goal on the outset of the program, announced on July 15, was to distribute $7.5 million through its CARES Act funding to small businesses in Tulare County that were impacted by the pandemic.

For three weeks in August businesses were encouraged to apply online either at their desktop computer or even on their phone. They were eligible if they could prove they have incurred or were likely to incur some type of pandemic related business expense such as rent, utilities, cleaning and disinfectant supplies, personal protective equipment (PPE), social distancing reconfiguration, and costs associated with limiting cash-handling.

Ideally, 300 businesses in each of the county’s five supervisorial districts would get $5,000 grants. Although that plan went out the window last Tuesday.

On Aug. 18 in front of the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, Workforce Investment Board (WIB) executive director Adam Peck, who was tasked with accepting applications and administering the relief program, noted that 1,294 businesses applied by the previous Aug. 17 deadline.

Of those, 327 were either duplicates or not eligible to receive the funding. Leaving the WIB with only 922 businesses of which to doll out the $7.5 million. And the number of eligible businesses that applied were in disproportionate districts. Peck noted in a PowerPoint slide that District 3, which encompasses a large swath of Visalia had 365 applicants. Visalia as a whole had 485 applicants. The next closest city was Tulare with 92.

While the stated goal was to equally distribute the money across all districts the board of supervisors decided to allow the money to be disproportionately allocated. This would allow for more of the money to be distributed than it otherwise may have been.

As of Friday, Aug. 21 Peck said they had accepted 1,491 applications almost meeting their 1,500 goal. Between Aug. 18 and Aug. 21 roughly 250 applications rolled in. By Monday, Aug. 24, WIB had 1,587 applicants but Peck cautioned again that as many as 500 of the total number of applications could be duplicates or ineligible to receive the funding.

There is still a week worth of vetting to weed out any businesses that may not quality. After that Peck said that checks are expected to be cut the first week of September.

The board also voted in favor of extending the deadline that businesses would have to spend the money by. Originally businesses would need to either reimburse themselves for the costs they already incurred or pay for the qualifying expenses by Sept. 30. Now businesses have until Oct. 31 to spend the grant money.

The entire idea of the grant dollars is to give them out to small businesses struggling to continue on and did not receive any other aid. But more importantly the goal is to do it quickly. If there is money left over after vetting all of the businesses the county will have to decide how best to divvy it out, or come up with another plan to use it in a responsible and urgent way.

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