(June 19, 2020) Financial aid to local businesses suffering from covid-19 closures and a subsequent economic downtown could be coming from the Worcester County Commissioners, who agreed Tuesday to proceed with a Workforce Back to Business Covid-19 Assistance Grant. The grants will come from the $2.28 million given to Worcester County from the federal CARES Act.
Tom Perlozzo, director of recreation and parks, tourism and economic development, said that he hopes to expedite the grant review and approval process.
“Our office gets calls every day from various businesses struggling as it relates to covid-19,” Perlozzo said. “It could be workforce, PPE, or it could be just making lease payments or rent payments.”
He said that the total county funding would probably not be enough to fund every grant application. The administration of the program would be carried out by a hybrid of the Economic Development Advisory Board and additional expertise from various local industries.
Perlozzo confirmed with County Commissioner Chip Bertino that all businesses would have the same opportunity to hear about the grant. Perlozzo said he has weekly meetings the chambers of commerce and other business entities to keep up to date with Gov. Larry Hogan’s orders.
“We do have an active plan in place to get everyone the information all at the same time throughout the county via social [media],” Perlozzo said. “We can use newspaper and we’ve already communicated with the town representatives. All know, including Ocean Pines.”
Bertino said he was concerned that it would be the commissioners who approve the final list of grant recipients that the advisory board would recommend.
“That bothers me considerably because I don’t want it to become political,” Bertino said. “I don’t want pressure being applied either to us or from us for people to be approved or not approved.”
Perlozzo acknowledged that it’s a slippery slope. He emphasized confidentiality for the applications.
“That’s why I think it’s important to have representation throughout the county and the types of categories of businesses that exist, such as retail or manufacturing,” Perlozzo said.
County Attorney Roscoe Leslie said there are always winners and losers for grants.
“I think the most important thing is that you have solid, objective evaluation criteria that you’d set up before everything goes out,” Leslie said.
Perlozzo said that the criteria was still being developed. He agreed to bring the plan to the commissioner’s meeting on July 7 per Bertino’s request.
Lachelle Scarlato, deputy director of economic development, said that the county will accept applications from businesses that were eligible for paycheck protection program. She also reassured County Commissioner Diana Purnell that the word would be spread to all businesses, including the agricultural community.
“One of my requests is that the process be comprehensive, transparent, inclusive, and we allow the time for those applications to be filed after the message is delivered and that we review it comprehensively,” Scarlato said. “As Tom [Perlozzo] mentioned, we have specific industry sectors, with their specific skill set participating with us in this review process.”
Businesses with one to 25 full-time employees will receive $5,000, businesses with 26-50 full-time employees will receive $10,000 and agriculture producers will receive $7,000. The funds must be used for covid-19 expenditures and must be spent by Dec. 20.
The window for application submission is July 8-22.