County OK’s COVID-19 relief for businesses

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Posted August 21, 2020 | By Bill Thompson, Deputy Editor

The aid package for Marion County businesses can now be opened.

On Tuesday, the County Commission appropriated nearly $7.5 million for an account that the Ocala/Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership can tap to bolster local companies rocked by coronavirus.

The funding comes courtesy of the federal CARES Act, through which Marion County received $63 million for COVID-19 relief programs.

CEP President and CEO Kevin Sheilley said on Tuesday companies are already interested in the organization’s Moving Biz Forward initiative, which was unveiled earlier this month in anticipation of commissioners supporting this plan.

The CEP went live with its application website on Friday, and so far companies had come forward seeking a total of $600,000, Sheilley said.

Potential applicants do not have to be CEP members to seek aid.

Assistant County Administrator Jeannie Rickman explained that the programs will be funded with $7.1 million. The county set aside 5 percent, or $355,000, for the CEP’s cost to administer the applications.

Sheilley said some early applicants don’t qualify. But, he added, the fact they lined up even before the money was approved does “speak to a need.”

“We don’t want to do what everyone else is doing, We don’t want to be Oprah Winfrey where everyone in the audience gets $2,000,” he said. “We will target to where the need is.”

Sheilley added that he believed two of the four programs the CEP created will prove popular.

The first is the Bridge to Recovery Program.

That is accessible to businesses with fewer than 25 employees, and provides money for rent or mortgages, salaries, utilities, supplies and working capital. To qualify, both the company and its owner must reside in Marion County, and be licensed to do business here. The company also must have been in business for at least a year.

Chains or franchises are not eligible, nor are real estate investment firms, multi-level marketers, adult entertainment outlets or gun dealers. Those that owe back taxes or are in bankruptcy also cannot qualify.

They must demonstrate how jobs would be lost without the funding, and provide a plan showing how the money will sustain them to recovery. Recipients must complete a one-hour online financial overview class, and will be required to provide quarterly updates for one year on how funding was used, the status of the company and the current number of employees.

Sheilley said he believed this would appeal particularly to companies in the hospitality industry that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 restrictions on travel and dining.

The second initiative that Sheilley believes would attract attention is the Project Operating Safely Program.

That effort provides grants to private, for-profit companies located in Marion County that were launched before Feb. 15, 2020, and obtained products or services to safeguard employees or customers between March 1 and Aug. 30, 2020.

For instance, applicants must have purchased personal protective equipment such as masks, face shields, gloves, hand sanitizer and disinfectant products. Or they could have obtained professional cleaning and disinfection services, and/or made capital improvements that include, but aren’t limited to, signage, air handling, social distancing partitioning, improvements for safe queueing, and changes intended to reduce the spread of infection.

Grants are capped at $3,000 per business for businesses with 100 or fewer employees, and $10,000 per business for those with more than 100 workers. Businesses, however, can submit just one application per registered business address.

Sheilley noted that companies, other than healthcare providers, typically don’t have such products in their inventory, and will welcome relief for these purchases.

The CEP also offers the Moving Forward Program, which makes forgivable loans to companies with 26 to 100 workers. The funding can be used for rent or mortgages, salaries, utilities, supplies and working capital. Again, the owner and business must both reside in Marion County, and be licensed here. The company must have been in business prior to Aug. 1, 2018.

Moving Forward also excludes chains or franchises, real estate investment companies, multi-level marketing firms, adult entertainment businesses and gun sellers. Also ineligible are those in arrears on taxes or in bankruptcy.

Applicants must submit a plan to show how the loan will help sustain them, and demonstrate how jobs would be lost without the loan

Finally, the Testing Capacity Reimbursement Program assists labs, clinics and physicians’ offices with costs associated with expanding COVID-19 testing capacity.

The program offers grants, capped at $30,000, to private, for-profit firms located in Marion County. The company must have started before Feb. 15, 2020, and those with multiple locations can submit a request for each one.

Applicants must show the expenses, as documented by receipts, occurred after July 1, 2020. They may seek reimbursement for testing supplies or equipment, remodeling or expansion costs, or capital Improvements, which can include but are not limited to air handling, safety partitioning, and improvements designed to reduce the spread of the virus that comply with state and CDC guidelines.

For more information, those interested can visit or contact the CEP at (352) 629-8051.

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