2020 | Government

Council might spend $14M on grants to help businesses, nonprofits reopen

Another $3.25M would go to arts organizations

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Montgomery County businesses and nonprofits affected by the COVID-19 health crisis might get more financial relief from the county in the coming weeks.

The County Council is considering spending $14 million in grants to help businesses and nonprofits reopen. The county is in its second phase of reopening, which began on Friday.

The council also is considering a separate $3.25 million fund for arts relief grants.

Both measures were introduced at the council’s meeting on Tuesday.

The $14 million would create a fund called Reopen Montgomery and provide grants of up to $5,000 per entity.

Part of the money for the fund — approximately $4 million — will come from unused grants from the Public Health Emergency Grant Program, which provided businesses and nonprofits with financial support for revenue losses during the health crisis. The rest, $10 million, will come from a combination of federal grants.

A public hearing and vote on the funds is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. July 7.

Council Member Andrew Friedson said the grants will help businesses adhere to the county’s and state’s guidelines for reopening.

“This is focused on safely reopening and the fact that our employers and their employees have to adjust to a new normal in order to get their businesses up and running, and keep their workers and their customers safe,” he said. “This will help them do that. It’s not going to solve every problem, but it’s going to solve many problems.”

Eligibility for the grants includes employing 100 or fewer employees and having incurred qualifying costs such as personal protective equipment, contactless payment systems, cleaning supplies, outdoor furniture, and signage.

Businesses and nonprofits must either be only located in the county, or have more than 50% of the employees or 50% of gross sales in the county.

Businesses and nonprofits that received other financial assistance from the county for reopening expenses related to the health crisis are not eligible for the grants.

Council Member Hans Riemer said he hopes the reopening grants process will be smoother than the Public Health Emergency Grants program, which many businesses owners considered to be slow.

“I know there are a lot of businesses out there that will never forget being ineligible for the first round of PHEG because they couldn’t show the losses for March,” he said. “I hope those businesses will be able to secure support from the county to meet their expenses to reopen.”

The council is also considering spending $3.25 million in relief grants to arts and humanities organizations and creative class professionals affected by the pandemic.

Of the funds, $3 million would be for organizations. The other $250,000 would go to individual artist emergency relief.

The Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County would award the grants. In an April survey conducted by the council, all local arts and humanities organizations that responded said they had to cancel, suspend or delay contracts.

In their responses, creative professionals said they had difficulty accessing or qualifying for federal and state relief programs, according to a staff report.

Council Member Craig Rice said the arts and humanities community has greatly suffered during the shutdown.

“This is a down payment, as we’ve done before,” he said, referring to other relief programs. “We know that there’s so much more that we should do, but the reality is that we can only do so much, certainly within our limitations.”

Council Member Gabe Albornoz also said the arts industry has been disproportionately hurt during the pandemic.

“This is an important step to support them and the critical role they play in our community and the critical role they will play in our healing moving forward,” he said.

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