Up to 1,500 Spokane County businesses facing financial hardship because of the novel coronavirus soon could have access to grants after the Spokane County Commissioners voted to spend $10 million in federal COVID-19 aid to fund a new program.
The grants likely will be for businesses with 20 employees or fewer and will likely range from $5,000 to $10,000, with most grants being closer to $10,000. Commissioners approved the funding Monday but won’t vote on the details of the program until next week.
The county set aside $10 million for the grant program and $100,000 to cover the administrative costs of Greater Spokane Incorporated and the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce. It also awarded Visit Spokane $2.5 million to spend on tourism promotion for the Spokane area.
The funding comes from a portion of the $90 million Spokane County received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, passed by Congress in March. Most communities received the funding for COVID-19 aid and recovery through the state. Spokane County received its payment directly from the U.S. Treasury and has spent almost $26 million. Commissioners spent $6 million on Spokane Regional Health District’s contact tracing efforts, $2 million on PPE for businesses, $2 million on food programs at Second Harvest and a few million for PPE for county employees and technology to allow them to work from home and rearrange offices for social distancing.
Lance Beck, CEO and president of Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce, said once commissioners approve the details, the Chamber likely will need a week to perfect the website and online application, with hopes to select recipients in August. He said the application will likely be standard for all eligible participants and businesses will likely be ranked by need. Commissioners discussed excluding applicants that received federal Paycheck Protection Program loans or placing them lower in the rankings than businesses that have not received any assistance, but have not yet voted on an approach,
Commissioners approved $10 million on Monday; Commissioner Josh Kerns said they could approve additional funding over the $10 million, depending on demand. The funding amount and roughed-out process are based on what the Washington State Department of Commerce adopted statewide. Earlier this month, 61 businesses in Spokane County received grants ranging from $8,000 to $10,000, though more than 1,800 in the county applied.
Commissioner Mary Kuney said she would like the process to be similar to the state’s approach and she wants to make sure businesses that haven’t received any assistance are prioritized.
“If someone didn’t get any funding and they were eligible, I want to provide them some funding. That way we’re able to help all businesses get out of this,” she said.
Kerns and Kuney said $2.5 million in tourism funding for Visit Spokane likely will be spent at a later date. Kuney said the funding will give the tourism agency the chance to prepare a campaign so when there are fewer new COVID-19 cases, people from around the area can safely visit Spokane.
“I’m hopeful by the time they’re ready to put this together, we’ll be in a safer, healthy environment and it’ll be OK for people to come,” she said.
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