Whitman County awards grants to nonprofits, small businesses

Awards for nonprofits distributed; application for small businesses still open

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While grants have been distributed for nonprofits, the application for small businesses is still open.

JOSIAH PIKE, Evergreen reporter

County officials are awarding grant money to local nonprofits and small businesses, with 59 businesses in Whitman County stating they are facing financial hardships in a recent survey conducted by county officials.

Jessica Jensema, Whitman County Administrative Services director, said the application process is now closed for nonprofits, and the grants are now being awarded.

The application for small business opened last week, she said. The due date for all applications is March 1.

Jensema said an American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 budget was created for the possibility of helping the community when it was first determined that it had passed, but it took a while to get the program going.

Whitman County Commissioner Art Swannack said the commissioners created a budget for the ARPA funds in August once it passed.

At first, the commissioners did not believe there was a need to allocate a large amount of ARP funds to help small businesses or nonprofits since COVID-19 was beginning to die down, he said.

“Initially, we thought, ‘Maybe we can use this for some broadband or something like that,’” Swannack said. “Well, come fall when the Delta wave came and then the omicron after that, suddenly we had more immediate needs.”

Jensema said Whitney Bond, Colfax Downtown Association executive director, conducted a survey of small businesses to see who needed help.

“Whitney Bond surveyed the downtown businesses in Colfax, and she sent it to me and A: it was very obvious the businesses needed help,” Jensema said. “But B: I loved her survey, and I said, ‘Can I please steal this and make it countywide?’”

The survey was heavily promoted, she said. Based on the large number of responses, there are many businesses throughout Whitman County that need help.

Jensema said 59 businesses answered that they are still experiencing financial hardship, and six said they have recovered since March 3, 2021.

The budgeting of the received ARP funds was a group effort mostly headed by Jensema, where she would meet with others to develop it. She met with local nonprofits and asked if they had any COVID-19 related needs, as well as the departments in Whitman County government, she said.

“So I just took a lot of information and presented it to the commissioners. The commissioners had things they wanted to make sure were on there as well,” Jensema said. “So it was really a team effort.”

Swannack said he has helped Jensema examine how to aid these organizations with the ARP funds for a while now.

“She dealt with a lot of the direct paperwork, and I’ve been involved to help read through the rules of what the federal government wrote,” he said.

There were only a few changes the commissioners made to the allocation of funds as presented by Jensema, which were to increase funds for veterans services, among others. The changes overall were mostly minor, she said.

Swannack said he also wanted to use some of the ARP money for fixing the air system in the courthouse to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Jensema said the application process has closed for nonprofits, and the grants were awarded on Feb. 8.

The online application for small businesses to apply for a grant has been open since Feb. 10, with 21 responses already recorded and more more expected.

“I’m anticipating about 70 since that’s how many people filled out the survey,” Jensema said.

The number of nonprofit organizations who applied for grants was lower than Jensema initially expected, although the amount of money some requested exceeded expectations. Some requests were not funded because they were not acceptable under ARP guidelines. After removing those, only the requests that fit the guidelines were left, she said.

“So we adjusted those awards across the board fairly so it was something we could do,” Jensema said.

Swannack said he has seen more applications from nonprofits than he expected, but it is partially because many nonprofits applied who thought they were eligible, but it turned out they were not.

“The really basic qualifications are that you have to be registered in the state of Washington. There are three or four criteria that you have to show,” he said. “You have to show that you’re a valid organization.”

Jensema anticipates the commissioners will go through the applications and make awards at their March 21 meeting, she said.

Swannack said they are waiting for the application process to end for small businesses before they will make any decisions about awarding grants.