More money available for businesses affected by COVID-19 in Pinellas

Pinellas County’s Economic Development Director Mike Meidel explains the differences between the first and second phase of a Pinellas CARES program designed to help businesses that were adversely affected by COVID-19.

A second phase of Pinellas CARES for businesses has launched. Officials say it is designed to include more businesses and applications are now easier to complete.

The program for individuals and families is still available for those that need help to pay rent, mortgage and utility bills. In addition, funding has been set aside for nonprofits and others with direct costs due to the pandemic.

At an Aug. 31 press conference, Pinellas County Commissioner Chair Pat Gerard said the new program would help local businesses with up to $10,000 in grant funding. The new program includes businesses whose customers were those that had to shut down due to the state's Safer at Home order, as well as the businesses that had to close.

She said in the first phase of the program helped more than 3,200 small businesses stay afloat.

“We expect many more to get help through this new program, which will be open to more kinds of businesses,” she said.

CARES funds can only be used to reimburse losses caused by COVID-19 that are not paid by insurance or another federal grant or program. The costs can include employee wages, vendors, rent or other businesses expenses.

Mike Meidel, director of Economic Development, said more than 5,000 applications were received during the initial round of Pinellas CARES funding for businesses, which was open from May 4-June 30. He said “a little over” 3,200 checks were issued totaling $16.2 million.

The initial round was designed primarily for businesses that had a physical presence, including hotels, restaurants and retail stores. The second phase includes those same businesses, but also includes wholesalers that sold products to store-front businesses as well as their service providers.

Meidel outlined four major differences between the first and second round of funding. The first difference is that larger businesses can now qualify. He said businesses that show earnings of $17,000-$3 million on their 2019 tax return can qualify for sliding scale grants that range from $2,500 to $10,000.

The first phase was restricted to businesses with 25 employees or less. The new program includes businesses with up to 50 employees.

The second difference is the special micro grant program for businesses with less than $17,000 in revenue. Meidel said these grants are available for businesses that made as little as $4,500 in 2019. The same program is available for businesses that earn just under $250,000 but may not have the right documentation required for a larger grant. He said the program allows more flexibility in the size of businesses.

The third difference is that businesses without a physical storefront can qualify. Meidel said this would include home-based businesses, those located in co-working space or business incubator, as well as those working out of a warehouse or non-traditional office space. He said this change would allow for a much broader segment of the business community to qualify.

The fourth difference is that businesses that sell to the hospitality industry and those that sell to retailers are now eligible under the new system.

Businesses that have already received funding from local grants from a municipality or the first phase of the county’s program may be able to qualify for additional funding in the second phase.

Meidel said it would be easier to apply for funding in the second phase through a single application portal available at www.PCED.org/CARES. A list of eligible business types and frequently asked questions also can be found on that page.

He said one obstacle for some businesses in the first phase was the requirement to submit a W9 form to document a business address and taxpayer ID number. Some businesses had problems filling out that form. So, the county developed an application that will create that form as part of the process, which Meidel said should reduce errors.

The new application process also reduces the number of documents required and businesses that lack some documentation may be able to qualify for a micro grant and technical assistance.

The program also has one more type of grant available, Meidel said. One program is designed for large and small “target industries,” which include manufacturing, information technology, scientific research and development, non-depositing financial services, insurance carriers, shared services or call centers and corporate headquarters.

These businesses get more than half of their revenues from outside the state of Florida. They sell their products or services elsewhere and bring money into the local economy.

Target industry businesses can qualify for up to $10,000 in a matching grant to pay for costs of preparing their businesses for COVID-19, including putting up walls or partitions, installing UV lights in air conditioning systems and providing personal protective equipment for employees.

Meidel said they would have to provide invoices and receipts to show the cost.

He expects to see more than twice as many applications come in as compared to the first phase. He is not sure how many in part due to not having a clear picture as to the number of home based businesses in the county.

He also said it is not likely the program will run out of money anytime soon, and currently there is no deadline to submit an application, so he urges businesses to take their time and submit a complete application.

“Please take your time and do it right,” he said.

Other Pinellas CARES programs

The county received $170 million in federal CARES funding to help it respond to COVID-19.

Aubrey Phillips, manager for Strategic Performance Management with the Office of Management and Budget, talked about the other Pinellas CARES programs. She said staff had worked really hard to make the application process simple for all of them.

She said as of Aug. 28, more than $8.6 million had gone to help people pay for housing and utility bills. More than 2,300 household have received emergency assistance.

In addition, through a partnership with the Early Learning Coalition, as of Aug. 31, 222 grants totaling $1.5 million had been approved for licensed childcare facilities. Sixty applications were being reviewed for the nonprofit partnership fund, which is administered by Pinellas Community Foundation. The fund provides grants to nonprofits providing services such as feeding and legal assistance to do with housing.

CARES funding also is paying for measures to slow the spread of the virus in the community, such as ensuring the county has enough personal protective equipment. Money also has been allocated to testing and contact tracing, skilled nursing and other needs.

Phillips said the county would soon be launching a workforce reemployment program to assist workers affected by COVID to transition to training for a new job.

“We tried to develop a comprehensive and balanced approach that really responds to the needs we have in the community,” she said.

One other new program added for the second phase targets the county’s creative side. The new program for independent artists and performers that were affected by COVID is administered by Creative Pinellas.

For more information on all the programs, visit https://covid19.pinellascounty.org/pinellas-cares-financial-assistance/.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.