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Five questions about Pinellas CARES financial help for small businesses

Margie Manning



Pinellas County small businesses can begin applying Monday for $5,000 grants from the county.

The grants for businesses, as well as a financial assistance program for low-income individuals and families, are funded through the $170 million that Pinellas County has received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. That federal measure was intended to help with the economic fallout from the Covid-19 crisis.

Related story: Here’s what you need to know to get emergency financial help from Pinellas County

The one-time business grants are intended to help offset a temporary loss of revenue to qualified businesses during the pandemic, and to help businesses retain and pay employees. Qualifying businesses must occupy a commercial space in Pinellas County and have 1 to 25 full-time equivalent employees, including the owner. They must have been in operations since at least Oct. 1, 2019 and still open as of Feb. 29, 2020, and they must expect to return to full operations after the crisis.

Mike Meidel, director, Pinellas County Economic Development (file photo)

There’s a Pinellas CARES Small Business Grants website (click here) which spells out the criteria and application process for the grants. Applications for the grants will be live on that website starting May 4.

The county has sufficient funds to provide the grants to all of the estimated 6,500 Pinellas businesses that qualify, so there’s no need to rush applications in. Businesses instead should focus on getting the application right and including all of the required documentation, said Mike Meidel, director, Pinellas County Economic Development.

During a Facebook Live briefing Thursday, Meidel encouraged business owners to review the Pinellas CARES Small Business Grants website to see if they qualify and what they need in order to apply. Meidel also clarified questions about the program.

Commercial locations. “One of the biggest questions we’ve received is about hair salons. Many are operated such that the barber or hair stylist rents the chair in another person’s facility. As long as you are renting a chair in a salon you would qualify. What we would need is a professional license showing you are a licensed stylist or barber with the state of Florida and the rent check that you pay to the salon.

“If you operate out of a spare room in your home it would not qualify. You have to be in a formal salon in a separate structure that is listed as a commercial structure in the property appraisers’ database.

“Likewise, if you are renting an office in an office building, you would qualify.”

Airbnb and other short-term rentals. “If you are renting a room or floor of your home that would not qualify.

“If you have a separate investment structure that you own and are renting the entire separate stand-alone structure as an Airbnb property that would qualify.  It would only qualify if you are collecting and remitting the tourist development tax as required by law and that you are legally operating in your community.”

Sole proprietors. “Sole proprietors with a commercial space may not consider themselves an employee, but if you are a one-person business [with a commercial space] you do qualify.

“The vast majority of home-based businesses are sole proprietors or contractors working for others on a 1099 basis. They do not qualify for this program but there are federal programs and state programs to help you. A lot of sole proprietors with home-based businesses think that since they don’t qualify for unemployment compensation in normal times, they don’t qualify now, but there is a federal pandemic unemployment assistance program that is specifically for sole proprietors and contract workers that would not normally be covered. In Florida it’s called re-employment assistance. [Apply here.]

“Contractors, plumbers and carpenters who work out of their vehicles and have no physical location don’t qualify for the Pinellas County program, because they are an essential service and have been allowed to continue to operate.”

Essential versus nonessential business. Companies that were deemed non-essential under the statewide stay at home order and the county’s safer at home order and forced to close are eligible for the grants, so long as they meet other criteria.

“There are only two essential business segments that qualify,” Meidel said. “One is restaurants and food trucks, food service establishments. That is because they were allowed to remain open, but could only do carryout or delivery, and many restaurants with seating indoors would have 50 employees before and they’re down to three or four now, and their sales have slumped proportionately as well, so they’re taking significant losses and we want to try to continue those businesses. They represent a lot of the sense of place we have in the community. It’s what makes Pinellas County special and we want to keep that going.

“The other one is the lodging establishments. Typically this time of year occupancy in hotels and motels would be about 90 percent. Recently it’s been as low as 17 percent. That’s an 80 percent reduction in income. That’s significant and a key part of our economy and we want to keep those mom and pop hotels operating that are the flavor of our community.”

Nonprofits. “None of the 501(c) organizations of any kind would quality for this grant, as of right now. The reason is that 501(c)3’s are charitable organizations that primarily are funded by philanthropy and by government contracts in many cases.

“We are meeting next week with the county administrator and staff to look at health and human service nonprofits that are key players in helping address the needs of the community. We want to make sure they are adequately funded. We will do that through other means.

“Business associations like chambers of commerce or industry associations are membership associations paid for by the dues of their members. They’re not required to close down. Some of their public events and fundraisers will be impacted, but most of all of us have been impacted in some way and we need to get the money out to as many people who were heavily impacted as possible.”

Meidel said there are several resources for businesses that don’t qualify for the Pinellas CARES Small Business Grants program. Pinellas County Economic Development has compiled those resources on its website (click here), and Meidel said that site would be updated as new resources become available.

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