Credit: File photo

After approving $20 million in grants for small businesses and nonprofits three weeks ago, the Montgomery County Council has added $5 million to the fund.

The fund now totals $25 million, of which $10 million is set aside for restaurants and retail shops. That includes the additional $5 million approved on Tuesday.

The Public Health Emergency Grant Program is providing small businesses and nonprofits that have 100 employees or less with grants of up to $75,000.

Applications for the program opened on April 15 and more than 6,000 applications were received as of Tuesday evening.

Mini grants of $2,500 are also being awarded from the program for reimbursing technology costs related to having employees work remotely during the public health crisis.

Council Member Nancy Navarro, who spearheaded the additional funds, said she knows the total of $25 million is not enough.

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“Of course this is not enough and we understand that the federal government has particular resources that are being allocated to the state as well. Even at that level, it has not been enough,” she said at the meeting. “Here at the local level, we’re doing everything we can within our range of resources.”

The additional $5 million was targeted for restaurants and retail storefronts because they have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, she said.

“Obviously we wish we had a lot more money, but we understand that this all has to fit together,” she said.

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Jerome Fletcher, an assistant chief administrative officer for the county, told Bethesda Beat Tuesday evening that he expects the first grants to go out “very soon” since the finance department is accepting payment information from the approved applicants now.

Emergency grants from a separate $6 million fund for individuals and families are expected to be distributed later this week, according to Council Member Gabe Albornoz. The county is starting with residents who are currently accessing the county’s Department of Health and Human Services resources.

Council Member Andrew Friedson said all the financial assistance for small businesses and nonprofits from local, state and federal funds is not sufficient.

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“I think at every level of government, we recognize that what we put forward to begin this process is not sufficient to meet the dramatic, unprecedented challenges that we face,” he said at the meeting. “This is going to be part of a broader holistic view, as Council Member Navarro mentioned, of our first step, but not the only step, to help us get through this at the county level, the state level and the federal level.”

Two people from the community spoke in support of the additional grant funds during a public hearing on Tuesday.

Marilyn Balcombe, president and CEO of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce, told the council that the additional $5 million is necessary but not enough.

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She said a “fatal flaw” of the program is that businesses were required to demonstrate a 50% loss in March. By the time businesses can demonstrate losses for April and May, the program funds will be depleted, she said.

Friedson said he and County Executive Marc Elrich, who has concerns about the 50% loss requirement, would discuss it.

“I understand that the $25 million grant fund is a lot of money, especially during this time of uncertain tax revenue. But it will not go far enough,” Balcombe said. “The current funds will be given to a very small sliver of businesses, leaving the majority of businesses struggling to survive. We will need a second wave of financial support for businesses, not only to keep people employed, but to get our local economy back on track.”

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.

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For other Bethesda Beat coverage of the coronavirus, click here.

To see a timeline of major coronavirus developments in Maryland and Montgomery County, click here.

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