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Centre approves $5.4 million in relief grants

BELLEFONTE — In Centre County, relief is on the way.

On Tuesday, the Centre County commissioners approved awarding a total of $5.4 million in relief grants to 403 local businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding is a part of the $14.7 million CARES Act money awarded to the county earlier this year to support businesses, municipalities, non-profits, educational institutions and county expenses associated with the pandemic.

According to county relief block grant coordinator Mary Kay Williams, applications were accepted through Sept. 11. To be eligible, a small business had to have less than 100 employees, be headquartered and operating in Centre County and have experienced revenue losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Tourism-related businesses of any size within the county also were eligible.

A team from Centre County worked with the Penn State Small Business Development Center and CPA firm Zelenkofske Axelrod on the grant process. Williams said that grant amounts were based on a formula of revenue declines or losses between March 1 and July 31.

“I feel very, very happy to announce that we were able to present a very fair and equitable process … as we were going through the decision-making process at no time did anybody from Centre County see the names of the businesses. We did the formula first and then we presented the businesses’ names. That was populated afterward,” Williams noted.

The 403 businesses that were awarded relief grants were notified via email, Williams said. Once businesses respond, she said, information goes to the county controller’s office to begin processing checks.

According to Williams, the county received 537 applications. While a handful did not meet employee criteria, about 130 were not awarded grants because their revenue had grown during the March-July period. They may still be awarded grants in a smaller second round.

Chair of the Board of Commissioners, Michael Pipe, said that he appreciated the patience of the businesses.

“It was really important to have a really solid foundation, to have integrity in that process and make sure through the process, we could say, ‘here’s how we arrived here.’ Looking back on it, it was a really strong process. We really appreciate all the work that has been put into this,” Pipe said.

Fellow commissioner Steve Dershem agreed.

“This was about as impartial a process as could possibly be,” Dershem said.

Commissioner Mark Higgins said that he was pleased with the distribution of funds as he looked through the list of grants. He had personally visited about “40 percent” of the businesses on the list.

“It’s one of the highest numbers in the state for businesses receiving grants. It’s also, of course, one of the largest dollar amounts in the state even though we’re only the 22nd largest county. We did use the most generous formula allowed by the the state and federal guidelines,” Higgins said.

According to Williams, the grants range from $900 to $30,000. The businesses receiving them are located in 27 of the county’s 35 municipalities.

Pipe said that the county is pleased to assist small businesses in Centre County.

“These are local businesses we all know, utilize here in our community,” Pipe said. “There’s been a difficult time recently with the pandemic and we wanted to make sure that part of this CARES Act money we got from the federal government gets out to them and helps them stay alive, stay afloat and get by so they can make it through.”

For a complete look at the 403 businesses that received funds, visit centrecountypa.gov.

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