MANKATO — Just as bars, restaurants and gyms begin another shutdown to stem the spread of COVID-19, the biggest local aid program for pandemic-impacted businesses is coming to a close.
Blue Earth County has awarded $2,185,000 in grants to businesses throughout the county using federal pandemic-relief dollars provided through the CARES Act, which Congress approved in late March. The County Board approved 39 grants on Nov. 3 and another 43 this week.
The November grants went to retail stores, restaurants, bars, hair salons, dental offices and small manufacturers. But there was also a theatrical production company, a church, a home builder, a photography business and a traveling carnival among the varied private-sector organizations striving to survive the economic downturn.
Recipients were centered in Mankato but spanned the county from a Pemberton bar to the Cat and Fiddle Ballroom on the western edge of the county, which also had the smallest grant at $148.31.
The majority of grants were for the maximum of $10,000, and many of the businesses had also received assistance earlier in the pandemic through the federal Payroll Protection Program or, in the case of Mankato businesses, low-interest loans offered through the city’s Economic Development Authority.
Virtually every program is now tapped out or expired, and the county program was a last-chance opportunity for help as businesses face a new round of restrictions imposed by Gov. Tim Walz starting this weekend and lasting at least four weeks. Walz on Thursday sent a letter to congressional leaders imploring them to pass another round of assistance both for governments fighting the pandemic and business struggling to survive it.
“The current situation is simply untenable,” Walz said in a statement released with the letter. “We need Congress to act immediately to help keep our businesses afloat, our workers paid, and our families with food on the table.”
The final grants put the county above its initial allocation of dollars for business assistance by about $125,000, something the board indicated in advance it was comfortable with if the amount of need required some additional dollars, County Administrator Bob Meyer said.
The program must come to an end, however, because of federal timelines on when the aid must be delivered to recipients.
“We did basically cut off applications after Nov. 6 because of the Dec. 1 deadline for getting payments out under the CARES Act,” Meyer said.
Along with the aid to businesses, the county board this week authorized large grants for area nonprofits — $75,000 each for House of Hope, MRCI, Open Door Health Center, VINE, Visit Mankato and the YMCA.
The Good Counsel Learning Center was granted just under $71,000.
“This is a program designed to assist those nonprofits that work with the county in some capacity, primarily human services, but focusing on employment, food support, other human-service-related items,” Meyer said.