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Chippewa County concerned about reluctance of some businesses to apply for needed pandemic relief funds

Chippewa County is aiming to quickly distribute new state funds to businesses affected by the pandemic order that had forced their temporary closure. The county commissioners are concerned that some of those most needing the help will not apply.

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MONTEVIDEO — Chippewa County is aiming to award $250,000 in state funds to businesses adversely affected by the latest executive order that had forced their temporary closing. The county commissioners are concerned that some businesses that need the help will not apply.

During its last effort to award state pandemic relief for businesses: “We had a hard time getting people to apply,” said Commissioner Matt Gilbertson during discussions Tuesday at the County Board meeting.

Gilbertson and board Chairman Dave Nordaune said that during the last go-around, commissioners personally visited with affected businesses to encourage them to apply. A former commissioner visited with one affected business that has since closed, they said. The business did not apply for help.

“Some people are hesitant due to the nature of their name getting out there, which happened,” said Gilbertson. “So it took some of it away for people not willing to put their name in the hat.”

County Auditor/Treasurer Michelle May said there are believed to be 40 businesses in the county that were adversely affected by the executive order by Gov. Tim Walz that temporarily closed bars, restaurants, other entertainment venues and gyms to help stem the spread of COVID-19.

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While they know there may be reluctance in applying, the commissioners said they know that the shutdown caused a major financial blow to many businesses.

The commissioners said they want to see these businesses get help to remain in operation. They also see it as important for the county’s overall economy.

“We certainly want to spend the $250,000 locally,” said Nordaune of the state funds. “I mean, if we can get the money into our economy locally, we should.”

May said the county is working with the Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission, which will administer the grant program. Using the RDC to evaluate the applications helps assure that no appearance of favoritism occurs in the awarding of funds, it was noted during discussions.

The application process does not require businesses to document their expenses as part of an effort to lessen the burdens involved in applying for the funds.

The auditor/treasurer said a sliding scale will be used to award the grant funds based on the losses a business has experienced. The application process will also take into account other help a business may be receiving, such as funds from the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

The motion approved by the commissioners allows a maximum of $15,000 to be awarded to any one business. The commissioners said they wanted an amount that would make it worthwhile for a business to put in the effort needed to apply.

New Commissioner Bill Pauling, who recently retired from a career as an independent grocery store owner, expressed optimism that the grant amount will attract interest. He said he is aware of a number of businesses that are hurting and likely to apply.

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Applications will be accepted through Feb. 15.

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