Grants to be available for small businesses and self-employed individuals

OKEECHOBEE — If your business was closed during by Gov. Ron DeSantis’s executive orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, you may qualify for some grant funds through Okeechobee County.

Businesses such as salons and bars closed by the executive orders and 1099 self-employed individuals who could not work due to the executive orders will have the opportunity to apply for grants from funding provided to the state through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. In the first round, business owners may apply for $7,500; 1099 individuals may apply for $5,000. If funds are available, a second round of grants will be advertised.

At the June 25 meeting of the Okeechobee County Commission, Chairman Terry Burroughs said the first round of grants will be available to businesses with up to 25 employees and 1099 self employed individuals who were put out of work when businesses were closed by Gov. DeSantis’s orders, and who did not receive funds from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Loan Advance, Small Business Administration (SBA) Express Bridge Loans.

He said the grants will help those who have not been able to obtain unemployment compensation. He said some local residents have had no income since March.

Federal funding from the CARES Act was allocated to Florida more than two months ago. Twelve Florida counties with populations greater than 500,000 — Brevard, Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Lee, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Orange and Volusia — received $2.47 billion in direct payments from the U.S. Department of the Treasury through the CARES Act, in March. The other 55 counties have been waiting for their share of the remaining $1.275 billion.

Mr. Burroughs said the state will distribute 25% of the remaining funds to the 55 counties in the first round; this money must be spent by Sept. 30. Okeechobee County will receive about $1.8 million.

“Any monies that you have in your current budget, you cannot replace those monies with this money,” he explained. He said they are allowed to use CARES Act funding to cover the12.5% match required for FEMA reimbursements for expenditures such as overtime to cover shifts of first responders who cannot work due to COVID-19.

About $250,000 will be allocated for Okeechobee County’s required 12% match for FEMA funding and $50,000 for the City of Okeechobee’s required 12% match for FEMA funding. The remainder will be given out as grants to businesses and 1099 individuals. These grants will be available to all county businesses, including those in the city limits.
Chairman Burroughs said after Sept. 30, the county should have access to the remaining 75% of their allocation (about $5.4 million) so they need a plan on how to use that money for expenses that qualify under the U.S. Treasury Guidelines.
“The dollars have to be expended by Dec. 31,” noted Commissioner Kelly Owens. “That could be problematic depending on what we expended them on.”
Chairman Burroughs said the business grant program he suggested is based on similar programs used by other counties in Florida.

County Attorney Wade Vose said these are taxable dollars.

Megan Smith, Okeechobee Economic Development Council president, said they will put a banner on the website announcing the application will be “coming soon” and will put guidelines out as soon as possible so people can start getting the required documentation together. She said the website will have a time stamp. Grant applications will be processed on “first come, first served” basis.

The grant applications, currently under development, will be available online on the Okeechobee Economic Development Corporation website, ocedcorp.com. The website will have links to the U.S. Treasury Department and CARES Act guidelines.

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