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Brevard Commission OKs $10M program to help small businesses, nonprofits hurt by coronavirus

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BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Brevard County small businesses and nonprofit organizations will be eligible to apply for grants of up to $10,000 apiece to offset some of their expenses and lost revenue related to the coronavirus pandemic, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.

The grant program — with a total budget of $10 million — was approved Tuesday by the Brevard County Commission.

Money for the grants will come from Brevard County's $105.03 million federal allocation from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

County Manager Frank Abbate said it will be several weeks before the county begins to take applications for the grants, as staff works out details about the online application process and about how the grants will be administered.

A five-member Small Business Economic Relief Task Force of local economic development officials recommended that $25 million to $30 million of the county’s CARES Act money be designated to help small businesses recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19. The task force was formed to provide the county manager’s office with small-business economic relief program options that the County Commission could consider providing to small businesses through the use of available CARES Act money.

But commissioners instead opted to put $10 million into the program. County Commission Chairman Bryan Lober said commissioners could consider adding more money if the demand exceeds $10 million.

With a maximum of $10,000 per grant, the $10 million would help at least 1,000 small businesses and nonprofits.

Under the program, the grants would be able to be used for such things as:

  • Expenses related to COVID-19, such as sanitation, personal protective equipment, signs, outdoor seating and insurance not covered by other resources from local, state or federal programs.
  • Salaries and payroll.
  • Inventories.
  • Commercial lease, mortgage or rent payments.
  • Other expense or loss of revenue that the business or nonprofit can demonstrate was incurred as a result of COVID-19 economic shutdown or downturn from March through June 2020.

Commissioners said the grants would help stimulate the local economy.

"Let's get this program going," Commissioner Kristine Isnardi urged other commissioners. "I don't want people to have to wait any more. I just want to get started. I don't want to delay it any more."

Commissioner Curt Smith said that “it’s really critical that we get the money out there” to small businesses. 

Commissioners approved the program by a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner John Tobia  opposed.

Tobia said there are other federal and state programs available to help small businesses hurt by COVID-19, and he didn't feel the county should now be using some of its CARES Act money for small-business grants. 

Tobia said commissioners should "be responsible with the money, and not necessarily spend it immediately."

He said, if the county doesn't spend all of its CARES Act allocation by the Dec. 31 deadline, the remaining money could go back to the federal government to help reduce the national debt.

But County Commission Vice Chair Rita Pritchett said the impact of Brevard County giving CARES Act money back to help the federal budget would amount to no more than "a dot in the ocean."

Under the plan approved by the County Commission, businesses with the equivalent of 50 or fewer full-time employees that were in operation as of Jan. 1 would be eligible to apply for the one-time grants.

After one to two weeks of the county publicizing the program, there would be a 10-day application period, followed by a review of all the applications that were submitted during that time period, Abbate said.

The program would have a “claw-back” provision, requiring businesses or nonprofits getting grants to give the money back to the county if they were found to also have received coronavirus-related aid from other federal or state grants or loans. They also would have to give the money back if a federal audit of the county’s use of the money finds the business or nonprofit was ineligible for the grant.

Tobia proposed a number of changes to the task force's original proposal. Among those that commissioners accepted were allowing internet-only businesses to apply, but not allowing businesses that don't participate in the "E-Verify" system to root out workers who are in the country illegally to apply.

Noting Tobia's many suggestions about the program, Isnardi said Tobia has "aa lot of input for somebody who's not going to support it anyway." 

Much of Tuesday's debate centered on how the applications would be reviewed. 

Commissioners asked Abbate to seek to work out an agreement with the local chambers of commerce to do an initial review of the applications to be sure applicants are eligible and have submitted the required documentation.

Abbate said the county's finance department — and not the chambers of commerce — would handle distribution of the grant money. 

Commissioners set a maximum of $400,000 on the cost for administering the program.

Tobia opposed having any involvement by the chambers of commerce, saying many chamber member businesses likely would be applying for the grants and that the chambers help fund political contributions to candidates.

“I think it would be completely improper” to have chambers of commerce involved, Tobia said. “I can’t support that in any way, shape, form, fashion or function.”