Small businesses to receive $500,000 from county

Whitman County will provide 50 or 60 businesses with $7,000-$10,000 each



Some of the businesses that are eligible to receive the money are restaurants, bars, fitness facilities and bowling alleys.

ABBY DAVIS, Evergreen copy chief

Whitman County will distribute $500,000 to small businesses impacted by the latest COVID-19 safety and health state regulations. 

Businesses eligible to receive the money are restaurants, bars, fitness facilities, museums, event centers and bowling alleys, said Jody Opheim, CARES Act funding consultant to Whitman County. The county is expecting to give money to 50 or 60 businesses with awards ranging from $7,000-$10,000.

Regulations businesses must follow include no indoor dining at restaurants and bars. Indoor activities at fitness facilities, bowling alleys and museums are prohibited, according to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s new COVID-19 restrictions.

These policies went into effect Nov. 16 and will end Dec. 14, according to the state’s COVID-19 guidelines.

“They’ve already taken such a hit in their businesses that it seems appropriate that these economic restoration dollars would help them the most,” said Michael Largent, chair of the board for Whitman County Commissioners.

County Commissioner Art Swannack said he asked for the funds after a Washington State Association of Counties meeting, where COVID-19 related issues were discussed. He was not expecting the grant request to be approved in only a matter of weeks.

“Businesses that were hit so hard with this latest shutdown need cash right away, if not weeks ago,” Opheim said. 

The county streamlined the application process for businesses so the county can provide the funds quickly, Opheim said.

While previous grants focused on expenses already incurred, this money from the Washington State Department of Commerce will help businesses make it through the current shutdown, Swannack said. 

Businesses had to state how the pandemic negatively impacted their business to qualify to receive funding. The money can be used for any operating expenses the business may have. There is no deadline for when they have to spend it by, Opheim said.  

Whitman County is aiming to send the money to businesses during the week of Dec. 14, she said. 

Including the $500,000, the county has given about $1.5 million in COVID-19 relief funds to small businesses. The county is anticipating more grant money in the future, Opheim said. 

Largent said while he is grateful for the additional funding, he does not think $500,000 is enough.

“There simply isn’t enough [money] available to make all businesses who have been affected whole,” he said. “It is our hope that this will assist businesses to weather the storm until these lockdowns are lifted.” 

If too many businesses applied, the county will ask about getting more money for everyone who requested funds, Swannack said. 

“A lot of [local businesses] are really on a shoestring right now trying to survive,” he said. “We just keep doing everything we can to help them.”