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Centre gets $1.8 million for hospitality industry

BELLEFONTE — The Centre County commissioners have a tough task ahead.

On Wednesday, they met for a work session to discuss distribution of funds for the COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program (CHIRP). Last week, the commissioners approved the application for the county’s designated $1,839,232 it is receiving from the program.

“Just as a recap, the county did receive the application on Wednesday of last week,” said county administrator Margaret Gray. “It was submitted within the 24-hour deadline on Wednesday. On Friday, we then received the agreement … that’s been submitted. Then yesterday, we received the invoice document, which we must also now approve and send back to them so that they can release the check to us. This is the third step in the sequence.”

According to chair Michael Pipe, Centre County government will work hand-in-hand with SEDA-COG in distributing the funds.

“We are looking at contracting with SEDA-COG to do the administration of this program,” Pipe said.

Commissioner Mark Higgins said that SEDA-COG is contracting with several counties to assist in distribution of funds.

“They’re writing that contract as we speak. They said they will have it available before the end of February so we can at least look at it and sign it before the 28th of February,” Higgins said. “But it is not available today and I am pretty sure it’s not going to be available tomorrow.”

According to Pipe, the county will now play the waiting game.

“We’ll just wait until we have the agreement from SEDA-COG. Could be the end of February, that’s fine,” Pipe said matter-of-factly.

Higgins said that the distribution of funds is still a bit confusing.

“The one major thing that is still up in the air is who cuts the physical checks and mails them? There’s a phrase in a single sentence in the act that would sort of determine that and it’s a little difficult to figure out what it means,” Higgins said.

Higgins noted that the commissioners are extremely supportive of the businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19.

“The commissioners are very supportive of our local hospitality industries, which includes motels and hotels, it would include restaurants, bars, pretty much anybody who serves food for pay to the public,” Higgins said.

Higgins said that the money will aid Centre County hospitality businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and related shutdowns. Anywhere between 100 and 200 businesses will be the benefactors of the funds.

Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law the bill creating the $145 million program to provide relief grants for lodging, food and drink establishments. He then announced the funds would be distributed to all 67 counties in the form of block grants based on population.

Funds will be disbursed to counties by Feb. 28 and they must have an application available to eligible businesses by March 15.

Program guidelines call for grants to be awarded to be awarded to businesses in increments of $5,000 with a maximum of $50,000.

According to a news release from Wolf’s office a business is eligible if:

— It has a North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) designation within the Accommodation subsector (721) or Food Services and Drinking Places subsector (722) and where accommodations, food or drink is served to or provided for the public, with or without charge.

— It has fewer than 300 full-time equivalent employees.

— It has a maximum tangible net worth of not more than $15 million.

— It was in operation on Feb. 15, 2020 and remains in operation and does not intend to permanently cease operations within one year of the date of application.

— COVID-19 has had an adverse economic impact on the eligible applicant which makes the grant request necessary to support the ongoing operations of the eligible applicant.

— Priority is to be given to businesses that have not already received a state or federal loan or grant; were subject to closure by Wolf’s emergency declaration; or had a reduction in gross receipts of 50% or more for the period of March 31-Dec. 31, 2020, compared to the same time in 2019.

The CHIRP funds mark the second time the county will be allocating COVID-19 relief money to local businesses. Last fall, $5.5 million in grants were distributed to 437 local businesses. That money came from the county’s $14.7 million County Relief Block Grant, allocated from Pennsylvania’s share of federal CARES Act funds, which also distributed money to nonprofit organizations, local governments and educational institutions and health and safety measures.

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