Spokane Journal of Business

1,400-plus organizations seek share of $10 million in CARES Act funds

GSI, Innovia expect to make decisions on CARES funding recipients soon

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More than 1,400 small businesses and nonprofits have sought a sliver of $10 million in federal funds made available in Spokane County.

Those organizations, which have applied for nonprofit grants through the county’s OpenTogether Small Business and Grant program, should find out whether they will receive a share of that money in the first few days of September, says Cara Coon, vice president of communications and public affairs for Greater Spokane Incorporated.

The applications are currently under review, says Coon, and awardees will be notified on Sept. 1, with payments expected to be disbursed beginning Sept. 2. 

Notifications to all organizations that didn’t receive funding are planned by the end of that same week.

Nonprofits account for 202 of those applications, she says, while small businesses comprise the remaining 1,228 requests. The numbers given are preliminary raw data, Coon clarifies, as the review team established by GSI and Innovia Foundation is still sorting through applications and verifying applicants.

The grant program is being administered by GSI in partnership with Innovia, which was chosen because of its expertise with grant programs and tools, Coon says.

She adds that a priority of the program was to get money to small businesses and nonprofits as quickly as possible.  

“With the sophistication in Innovia’s tools, we knew that would help our process be swift,” contends Coon. 

Spokane County was allocated over $91 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding. County commissioners later voted to allocate $10 million of that funding for small business and nonprofit relief. 

Of the $91 million in CARES Act funding allocated to Spokane County, over $32 million has already been disbursed.

Jared Webley, spokesman for the county, says roughly $59.3 million in funds have not been allocated. 

According to guidance issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, CARES Act funding must be spent by Dec. 30, 2020, or the remaining funds must be returned to the treasury. 

Webley says the commissioners haven’t established a separate deadline beyond the Dec. 30 mandated by Treasury. 

The Spokane Regional Health District received $6 million from the fund for expenses associated with the district’s response to the pandemic. The Spokane City Council approved $2.9 million in funding to six organizations: Catholic Charities, Community Minded Enterprises, Family Promise of Spokane, Spokane Arts Commission, the Spokane Workforce Council, and Seattle-based company Geocko Inc., which operates as LiveStories and provides integrated civic data services.

The board of commissioners in mid-July voted to allocate another $2 million to SRHD to assist it in combatting COVID-19.

SHRD also awarded a $1.35 million contract to Catholic Charities to run an isolation facility through Dec. 31 at the Immaculate Heart Retreat Center, at 6910 S. Ben Burr Road.

Another $1.4 million of the county CARES Act funds were used to pay for contact tracing services through California-based Public Health Institute.

Second Harvest of the Inland Northwest announced in mid-June it had received $2.1 million in funding from the county CARES Act funding to cover food purchases and resources to transport food.

County commissioners in late July unanimously voted to spend $2 million of those funds to purchase or renovate buildings for emergency COVID-19 shelter space.

The board also voted to grant Visit Spokane $2.5 million for COVID-19-related expenses. Visit Spokane, GSI, Downtown Spokane Partnership, Inland Publications Inc., and the West Plains and Spokane Valley chambers of commerce received a total of nearly $2 million to promote Spokane County businesses.

Inland Publications, which does business as the Inlander, was also approved to receive $720,000 in funding for COVID-19 related expenditures, while the board unanimously approved granting GSI $11.4 million, according to county records, though it is unclear if those funds have been disbursed. 

The CARES Act is a more than $2 trillion relief package that provides assistance for Americans with pandemic-related economic losses.

Coon says she believes the OpenTogether program has received enough applicants to use all of the funds, though it’s still too early to be certain of that.

“We want to use all of the money, disseminate all $10 million. It helps our community as a whole and helps our individual businesses and nonprofits,” she says.

She contends it’s too early in the process to say for certain if GSI will reopen the grant application if all $10 million is not claimed.

Per CARES Act regulations, the funds must be allocated and spent by Dec. 31.

Small businesses and nonprofits that meet the requirements for the program can be awarded up to $10,000, Coon says, while sole proprietors and independent contractors can receive up to $2,500.

Al French, chair of the Spokane County Board of Commissioners, says in a prepared statement, “The success of our economy is directly tied to the success of small businesses in our county. Our hope is that these funds will help small businesses stay afloat during these difficult times.” 

Grants, in this instance, are meant to reimburse the cost of coronavirus-related business interruptions, and can be used for payroll, utilities, debt services, vendor payments, and other expenses directly related to the COVID-19 disruptions, Coon says. 

Some qualified expenses could include rewriting a company’s business plan to incorporate a more friendly take-out or delivery method or installing plexiglass to provide a clear barrier between employees and customers or visitors, she explains.

The amount an applicant receives is dependent on the costs incurred by the businesses or organizations.

To qualify, small businesses and nonprofits must be located primarily in Spokane County. They must have been established on or before March 1, 2019 and can’t be seeking bankruptcy protection. Applicants also must be in good standing with the Washington state Secretary of State and the Department of Labor and Industries.

Small businesses are required to have 49 or fewer full-time equivalent employees as of March 1. They are limited to 2019 gross revenues of under $10 million and must have had revenues greater than $10,000 in 2019 or 2020.

Marijuana businesses don’t qualify.

Nonprofits must be federally recognized as 501c(3) or use a federally recognized fiscal sponsor and have a minimum $10,000 current annual operating budget to qualify.

All applicants must show a financial loss due to COVID-19 to be eligible.

While not a requirement to be eligible, organizations or businesses with multiethnic, woman, veteran, or tribal member majority owners or that have primary customer bases represented by multiethnic, tribal, veteran, or LGBTQ communities will be prioritized in the selection process, Coon says.

According to the frequently asked questions page on GSI’s website, businesses that were forced to close or demonstrated business losses because of government mandates placed to slow the spread of the virus, or that were mandated to reduce service capacity when allowed to reopen will also be prioritized.

The application period initially ran from July 27 to Aug. 10. The deadline was later extended to Aug. 14, because the program had a substantial number of in-progress applications on the original deadline date, Coon says.

She adds, “We wanted to ensure that everybody that was still working on it would be able to finish it.” 

The data gathered during the process also will help the county gain a clearer picture of the need in the community, Coon contends.

For example, the application inquires whether a business or nonprofit already has received assistance, either from the Washington state Department of Commerce Working Washington Small Business Emergency Grant, which provided $10 million in funding to businesses statewide, or the Paycheck Protection Program loans administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Further, the data could act as a point-in-time representation of the impact on local businesses and nonprofits, providing information on what percent of businesses initially were closed by sector, how long those companies were or have been closed, and what their revenue loss has been, Coon contends.

Natasha Nellis
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Reporter Natasha Nellis joined the Journal in May 2018 and covers real estate and construction. Natasha is an avid reader and loves taking photos, traveling, and learning new languages.

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