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Home-based businesses, artists among those that can tap Pinellas CARES funds

Margie Manning

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Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

Round two of the Pinellas CARES financial aid program for businesses includes both smaller and larger companies than those that qualified for help in the initial round of the program.

There’s also a wider range of funding available than round one, said Mike Meidel, director, Pinellas County Economic Development.

Businesses with $3 million or less in gross annual revenue now can qualify for up to $10,000 in grant assistance, based on a sliding scale. The grants are for businesses that had to shut down or those whose customers had to stop doing business because of the Covid-19 pandemic. There also are micro-grants for smaller businesses, as well as financial help for companies that in industries the county has targeted for employment growth.

Financial help for businesses is one of several ways Pinellas County is using the $170 million it received from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, intended to help with the economic fallout from the Covid-19 crisis. The county also is tapping CARES Act funding for programs to help individuals and families, nonprofits and child care providers, as well as testing, education and the purchase of personal protective equipment.

The first iteration of Pinellas CARES for businesses was for small businesses, with 25 or fewer workers. More than 3,200 small business owners received grants for $5,000 each. The $16.2 million awarded under Round 1 of the program was just slightly over half of the total the county had anticipated providing in business relief.

“We were all a little bit surprised, although we had crafted that program a little more narrowly because we weren’t sure what the response was going to be,” said Pat Gerard, chair of the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners, during a video news conference. “There was a lot of urging from the commission to open up the criteria a bit and make it more available to others.”

The size of businesses that qualify is a key difference between the first and second rounds of the program, Meidel said.

Companies with earned income between $17,000 and $3 million in 2019 and up to 50 employees can qualify for grants on a sliding scale between $2,500 and $10,000. There are micro-grants for companies with revenue as low as $4,250 in 2019, and the micro-grants can be used by companies with up to $250,000 in annual revenue if they don’t have the documentation required for the sliding scale grants.

A physical storefront no longer is required. Home-based businesses, as well as those in coworking spaces, business incubators, traditional office space and warehouses are eligible, as well as businesses that sell to hotels, retailers and other types of companies that were shut down.

So are independent artists and performers, including visual artists, performing artists and even professional sports.

“If you are an independent artist that doesn’t have at least $17,000 in revenue and the documentation to receive the sliding scale grant, you’ll be forwarded to Creative Pinellas for them to work with you on micro-grants that would not have the same strict requirements,” Meidel said. “But if you have a large business and are making sizable income from your art, you will likely qualify under the sliding scale grants.”

In some cases, businesses that already have received funding from a local municipality or from the first round of Pinellas CARES can apply for a second round of funding.

Companies in “target industries” also can get up to $10,000 for reimbursement of expenses related to Covid-19 mitigation, such as installing new walls and partitions, UV lights in the air conditioning system and personal protective equipment for employees. Those target industries include manufacturing, information technology, scientific research and development, non-depository financial services, insurance carriers, shared services and call centers, and corporate headquarters operations.

Meidel expects the expanded criteria to bring many more businesses into the program.

“I believe we’ll have another 3,200 businesses,” Meidel said. “We’ve about doubled the amount of businesses that can be served through this new expanded eligibility.

“Part of that we don’t know, because we don’t have a clear picture of how many home-based businesses are out there. It could be considerably more than that, but we do expect as many to apply in the second round as we did in the first.” 

The application process has been streamlined, and there’s a single application portal at www.pced.org/cares

There is no deadline to apply, said Aubrey Phillips, strategic performance manager for the Office of Management and Budget, and director of operations for the current round of the CARES program.

County officials are urging people to take their time filling out the application and to be sure to include all the required documentation. Grant awards will be based on complete and eligible applications, not how early an application is submitted, and an incomplete application could cause delays.

The county has until the end of December to spend the CARES Act funding it has received, Meidel said.

“We’re going to take a look at the program in about 30 days to see how much money we have spent, how many applications are in the system, because there is a chance we could continue to broaden it,” Meidel said. “The basic sliding scale grant program has about $32 million associated with it and we’ve only given out $16 million so far. So if we find that we have some opportunity to provide funding to a broader group of businesses, we’ll definitely do that.”

For a full program overview, visit http://cares.pinellas.gov

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