Aiming to address the impacts of the pandemic in Merced County, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a funding plan for approximately $28.9 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to support businesses, vulnerable members of the community, and the fight against the virus.
A highlight of the board action on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds is the allocation of $3 million to support local small business. Those firms with 25 or fewer employees, as well as self-employed business owners and nonprofits, will be eligible to apply and receive up to $50,000 (or $2,000 per employee) in grant funding for reimbursement of COVID-19 operating expenses, loss of net revenue due to the pandemic, and health and safety costs.
“Grants are not something the business community normally does, so we tried to do it in a simple fashion that still checks the boxes that we are required to check in distributing the funds,” said David Marioni, the director of the Workforce Development board. “Our goal is to make it as easy as possible, yet compliant with the regulations that are laid out in the CARES Act.”
Marioni said the turnaround on the grants will be quick, with applications being accepted as soon as this coming Monday, Aug. 17, through Sept. 20. Marioni said his department will launch a series of webinars, FAQs sheets and sample documents to help owners apply. Here are some other key details:
• The $3 million will be distributed evenly between the five supervisorial districts at $600,000 per district
• The business would need to have an active business license, in good standing, and in operation before March 19, 2020.
• Applications for businesses who have not received other COVID-19 related grants or loans will be prioritized.
• All eligible expenses must be reported to the county by Oct. 4, 2020.
All the funding approved Tuesday is contingent upon local adherence to federal and state guidance and health requirements.
Some 65 percent of Merced County’s CARES Act funds, or $18.6 million, is going toward “Continuity of Operations and Emergency Response, which covers Public Health operations and employee salaries. More than $7.2 million is designated for “community support,” which includes rental and food assistance, the small business program (described above) and education campaigns, among other things. The remaining $3 million (10 percent) was left in a flexible contingency plan for funding to be assigned later as situations develop.
The board decision on the plan was 4-1, with Supervisor Rodrigo Espinoza voting “no.” Espinoza said he wanted to reserve $1 million from the contingency money to aid households of workers that are stuck in quarantine and are not receiving pay from their employers or are awaiting the arrival of benefits.
“There are plenty of families who have fallen ill with the virus — probably two three or four people not working — and so when you quarantine your whole house, everybody is off work, and everybody is suffering.”
Several members of the public who spoke at the meeting echoed similar sentiments, saying the plan should do more for low-income households and those workers who are left out of some programs because they are “undocumented.”
Supervisor Lloyd Pareira did point out, however, that $4 million in the plan supports things like rental assistance, and that includes $1 million available to undocumented residents.
CARES ACT PLAN IN MERCED COUNTY
Emergency Response, ($18.6 million)
• $8.3 million — Salary, benefits
• $3.8 million — Retrofit facilities
• $578,000 — Telework, technology
• $943,000 — Personal protective equipment
• $2.1 million — Testing, health screening
• $1.5 million — Expand contract tracing
• $250,000 — Rehabilitation at parks
• $1.5 million — Other eligible areas
Community Support, ($7.2 million)
• $3.1 million — Small business relief
• $400,000 — Health Care support
• $200,000 — Food assistance
• $2.2 million — Homelessness, housing
• $1 million — Outreach, education
• $265,000 — Community, veterans halls
• $ 3 million
The CARES Act was signed into law by President Trump on March 27, and authorized more than $2 trillion to combat COVID-19 and its economic effects. Through the CARES Act, California received $9.5 billion, of which Merced County is allocated approximately $28.9 million. The funding will be allocated out in monthly installments, the first of which was received July 31.