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New grant program to help small businesses in Belmont County

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Small businesses in Belmont County that have been damaged by the COVID-19 pandemic will have some additional help in the coming months, after the Belmont County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday created a Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act Small Business Grant Program.

Businesses that have received Paycheck Protection Program and other grant programs and federal funds will not be eligible to receive CARE money, they said.

Belmont County Auditor Anthony Rocchio said Belmont County has received close to $2.1 million in federal CARE funding, but there are strict limitations to how the funds can be spent. He said only four municipalities have applied for funds, and the commissioners will use the $350,000 allocated to their office to fund the grant program. All unspent funds will be returned between Sept. 30 and Oct. 7. The county will re-distribute Oct. 15 and any unspent funds will be returned to the federal government in December.

“The county’s actually using their original portion of the CARES program,” he said. “They decided to take it out of their original allotment and use it for the small business program.”

He said businesses will be able to apply for a maximum of $10,000, but it will be dependent on expenses and what the money is needed for.

“Their restrictions are not quite as intense as ours are at the county level,” Rocchio said. “They should be able to use it for a mortgage. They should be able to use it for utilities, be able to meet payroll, those type of things.”

Rocchio said the guidelines specify a business must have 30 or fewer employees and less than $1 million in gross income.

“There won’t be a lot of major businesses in Belmont County, but I think that’s a good thing for where we are,” he said. “We’ll be able to really get some funding into the hands of people who need it.”

He said the businesses should know by mid to late September if they are approved and what funding is available for all businesses that apply.

Applying businesses should provide documentation comparing 2019 to 2020 operations.

Belmont County Commissioner J.P. Dutton said this would be a valuable aid to county small businesses.

“This is one of the things that was allowable in the guidelines and the restrictions given to us with the CARE funding. It was something that we wanted to do. It was something we could do to give money back to the community and stay in Belmont County,” he said.

Beginning Monday, county officials will begin meeting with agencies and organizations including the Belmont County Port Authority, Tourism Council, Community Improvement Corporation, and the chambers of commerce and provide guidelines, applications and deadlines.

Afterward, application information and guidelines will likely be available on their websites and social media.

Rocchio said he hoped to have the first round of funding out before the first CARE-required reporting period in October, then to begin preparing for the second half.

“We think this is going to be a great program. It’s one we have wanted to get started, but needed to do some analysis first on the funding we’ve had from the federal government to this point, making sure we are reimbursing all the different county agencies for their expenses, but with the additional funding that we have, this is one of the priorities that we had, was to start a program like this because we think it’s going to be beneficial to a lot of small businesses across Belmont County. There’s a lot of businesses across Belmont County that were part of the PPP program, but there’s a lot that were not, and they’re eligible for this type of funding,” Dutton said.

“We see business activity increasing across Belmont County. We hope it’s the beginning of a long trend. That said, there’s a lot of small businesses in our county that are still struggling to recover from the closures earlier this year and are going to continue to struggle with those closures,” he said.

“We look forward to working with a lot of other entities in Belmont County,” Dutton said. “We think it’s going to be a great network to make sure that communication is spread out to these types of businesses and provide their input as well.”

St. Clairsville Area Chamber of Commerce Director Wendy Anderson has been asked to be on the grant committee. She looks forward to helping find businesses which did not receive a PPP loan.

“I’m excited to be part of it, because I know there are businesses out there that did not qualify or did not get the PPP loan and this way we can help them,” she said. “I think it’s something that’s needed and it’s nice the commissioners and reaching out to our community and Belmont County.”

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