In mid-December, the Minnesota State Legislature approved a Minnesota Small Business Relief Grant package to assist small businesses damaged by the COVID-19 pandemic and specifically losses directly resulting from Executive Order 20-99 signed by Gov. Tim Walz that forced businesses like restaurants, bars, theaters and gyms to once again shut down or greatly reduce access to the public.

Under the formula for the small business grant program, Wright County’s allocation will be approximately $2.7 million. This is anticipated to be available on or about Monday, January 11, 2021. As it did with CARES Act funds, the Wright County Board of Commissioners has authorized extending business grants to local small businesses most deeply impacted by the pandemic.

Commissioner Darek Vetsch explained that the Wright County program will target those in most need of immediate funding assistance.

“The state has recognized that many small businesses in Minnesota have been struggling to survive since COVID forced closures back in the spring and again in November. This program has many similarities to what Wright County set up with its CARES Act allocation, but, with any state- or federal-run program, there are going to be guidelines that small businesses will have to meet in order to be eligible,” Vetsch explained.

Businesses will be divided into three groups: those specifically earmarked for multiple small-business funding sources (table service restaurants, gyms, theaters, entertainment-related businesses, etc.); sole proprietor businesses that may only have one employee (hairdresser, barber, DJ’s, photo studios, cake bakers, etc.); and nonprofits and promoters of performing arts, sports and similar events in facilities (youth sports, county fairs, camps, etc.).

Wright County staff is in the process of setting up an application portal that will be available on the county website (www.co.wright.mn.us) and allow business owners to fill out their applications electronically. It is expected to “go live” on or before January 11, 2021.

Vetsch pointed out that there will be quite a bit of documentation required to demonstrate a business loss. Including the impact was the result of Executive Order 20-99 or previous Executive Orders that shut down or greatly curtailed the ability for small businesses to operate as normal.

“There are certain hoops you have to jump through because the state will be conducting a stringent audit of how the funds were allocated. Therefore, those seeking assistance will have to provide the background materials to quantify their business losses,” Vetsch said. “Small business owners will have to provide their federal tax return, profit/loss statements for the final two quarters of 2019 and all of 2020, a current business filing with the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office, a business eligible expense worksheet with the supporting receipts, acknowledgement that the eligible expenses have not or will not be reimbursed from another funding source and, in the case of home-based businesses, that the home-based business is that person’s primary source of income. There will be a lot that goes into this process.”

Depending on the number of employees, a small business can request up to $20,000 ($6,000 for a home-based business). The application process is expected to open on or about January 11 and will close Monday, February 8. All funds are expected to be disbursed by Tuesday, February 16.

Vetsch said the biggest unknown, at the moment, is how many small businesses will apply and how many will be awarded grant funds for eligible expenses. He said that the three-tiered grouping of business classifications is an attempt to provide relief for as many businesses as possible.

“We know that some businesses have been damaged so severely that $5,000, $10,000 or even $20,000 may not be enough to make them whole as a business,” Vetsch said. “Our goal is to assist as many of these local businesses as we can with the funds available to us and try to bridge the gap for them until the current COVID restrictions are lifted and we can start trying to bring our lives back to some sense of normalcy.”

Wright County will keep residents who are considering applying for the relief grant funds apprised of the progress of the funds being received from the state and going live with its electronic application process via the county website and social media platforms. Each application will be reviewed by the Wright County Business Relief Committee. Each eligible application will be forwarded to the Wright County Board of Commissioners for approval and fund disbursement.

Vetsch said the listing of eligibility for these funds will be posted on the county website when they are available, along with the state’s the guidance for what is and is not an eligible expense.

“At the moment, there are a lot of moving parts here,” Vetsch said. “Our goal is to be ready to open the application window once we get the funds from the state. We will review applications and get these funds out to the small business owners that need them so desperately.”

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