Wasco County will be distributing $734,000 in Oregon small business grant funds by the end of December, and grant criteria and the application process have been simplified to make it easier for small businesses to participate.

“We are really rushing, when it comes to figuring out a criteria,” said Wasco County Administrative Officer Tyler Stone. “We are trying to keep it simple, and possible, but give the board a chance to weigh in on things,” he told the Board of Commissioners during their Dec. 2 regular meeting.

The grant program will be administered by the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District (MCEDD), which administered previous emergency grant funding related to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have gotten information coming in from the state, we’ve met with The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce and county staff, and have developed a rough overview of what we think those business grants might look like,” said Carrie Pipinich of MCEDD.

In addition to the chamber and county, Pipinich said the agency had fielded a lot of calls from businesses, and the problems some had during previous grant cycles. 

This time the entire process will be simplified, Pipinich said. “This one is a lot less restrictive, will require a lot less paperwork from the business. A lot of this is just the state requirements. (Participating businesses) just have to have an expense caused by COVID-19, rather than show a (year to year) loss. The bar is a lot lower for participating in the program. If they were required to shut down, or really limit operations, they can argue they have had to adapt due to the pandemic.”

 Pipinich told the board they were hoping to use an online form, rather than a .pdf form that needed to be printed, filled out and mailed in. “Not all our small business have access to printers, and (an online form) will be really easy to access on a computer or a smart phone. We think that will be more accessible for folks.

“We are prioritizing those who couldn’t get in during the last cycle,” Pipinich said. Nonprofits providing food assistance and housing may also be prioritized, she added.

In an overview provided to the Commissioners, Pipinich outlined five current priorities for the grant program:

Businesses that were prohibited from all operations in March, or during the two-week statewide “freeze” Nov. 18 through Dec. 2, as directed by state orders.

Businesses required to significantly modify operations due to restrictions in March and during the statewide “freeze” that prohibited on-premises consumption of food or drink, but allowed take-out or delivery services and that limited elective and non-urgent procedures that utilize personal protective equipment (PPE) to urgent procedures only. 

Businesses that have not received prior awards from the Business Oregon funded business grant program (these funds would most likely have come from MCEDD, City of The Dalles or Business Oregon or a statewide entity, or the statewide Business and Cultural Support Programs).

Businesses that can show a 25 percent decline in sales (with optional additional documentation required to show decline in sales from one month since March 2020 as compared to the same month in 2019). Business that experience seasonal decline in revenue for reasons other than COVID-19 are not eligible for the priority criteria.

Nonprofits whose primary purpose is to provide food assistance or housing support to address immediate needs related to COVID-19 impacts.

Program overview

Additional parameters and requirements outline by MCEDD (and subject to change) include the following:

Minimum award amounts will be based on the highest number of individuals employed in a single month in 2020: 0-3, $5,000; 4-10, $10,000; 11-15, $15,000; 15-20, $20,000; 20-25, $25,000.

Grants must be used to support business-related expenses to maintain operations and/or reopen and cannot be used for personal use, and will be subject to income tax.

Eligible business must:

Be headquartered in Oregon and have its principal operations in Wasco County.

Be an individually owned franchise if part of a chain.

If required by Oregon to be registered to do business in Oregon, business must be registered; if not required to register, proof of business income must be provided.

Business must be either for-profit or tax exempt as a 501c3 non non-profit.

Must have incurred necessary expenditures due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Must have been open since February 2020.

Timeline

Stone noted the criteria and parameters of the grant program had to be out soon, and grants awarded by the end of December.

Pipinich said MCEDD will meet with stakeholders Dec. 3, and hope to have everything finalized by Dec. 4. Once finalized, the application window could open early the following week. “We would like to have the window open for maybe 10 days, so we have at least a full week,” she said.

In order to move quickly, the board unanimously approved authorizing Stone to enter into an agreement with MCEDD when details were finalized.

“We have to trust our partner in this, they have been doing an outstanding job,” said Commissioner Steve Kramer. “We’ve got to put our trust in those folks and get this money out to our business.”

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