HONESDALE, PA — Months after receiving around $4 million in federal CARES Act funding, the Wayne County Commissioners have approved the allocation of $2,570,058 to 147 businesses and nonprofits …
HONESDALE, PA — Months after receiving around $4 million in federal CARES Act funding, the Wayne County Commissioners have approved the allocation of $2,570,058 to 147 businesses and nonprofits that have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sara Hailstone of Hailstone Economic, which helped the county review applications, attended last week’s commissioners meeting to discuss the decision-making process.
“We were very much oversubscribed; we had almost $10 million in requests,” she said, noting that she wished there was more money to give out. “We looked at the applications in multiple ways: we looked at them based on the funds they received from other grant programs, we looked at businesses’ financial statements and we looked at business expenses.”
Chairman Brian Smith said that the number of employees and the timeframe of the pandemic’s impact also influenced the final list of recipients, he echoed Hailstone’s wish that there was more to give.
“I care a great deal about these businesses, and I hope they survive,” Smith said.
Mary Beth Wood, executive director of the Wayne Economic Development Corporation (WEDCO), said that it’s difficult to make broad statements about what impact this relief will have on the local economy. This program, however, will more directly disperse aid to local businesses and organizations compared to others administered through the commonwealth.
“As the pandemic erupted, the commonwealth worked quickly to offer a number of good statewide funding programs, but because of the sheer volume of requests, relatively little aid reached rural counties like Wayne,” Wood said. “This program is designed to bring funding closer to home. Dispersing grants to nearly 150 businesses and organizations is extremely beneficial.”
WEDCO itself was a recipient of $50,000 in CARES Act funding. Certified economic development organizations like WEDCO—which Wood said played an “immediate and important role” assisting and advocating for businesses during the shutdown—were permitted to continue working through the pandemic, but still suffered losses in revenue.
“This important network of service providers is at risk because many economic development organizations are organized as a 501c6 and therefore not eligible for the federal Small Business Administration relief programs. Our losses come from decreased membership support, inability to hold our fundraisers and reduction in government support due to current budget conditions.”
Like WEDCO, some local nonprofits have played a key role in assisting residents through the darkest days of the pandemic while still suffering financial losses themselves. The Cooperage Project, for example, received $10,000 through the county’s program. Executive director Arrah Fisher said that while the project played a key role in providing food relief to residents through the red and yellow phases, canceling its typically packed schedule of events caused financial strain on the organization. The Cooperage has also lost the ability to run many of its usual programs, Fisher said, for which it would typically receive specific grant funding—now unavailable.
“We generate a lot of our income—which covers a lot of overhead—from our door [donations] from having events... or our rental fees if we rent the space out for a birthday party or bridal shower; that’s all revenue that we get to pay all the bills we need to pay in order to do our programming,” Fisher said, adding The Cooperage is just now looking at holding some events again. “Same with restaurants and bars, what’s your revenue going to be when you can only have 25 percent capacity?”
Lucrative fundraising efforts are also difficult to run amid a pandemic, Fisher said. The Cooperage typically does two fundraising appeals in the spring and at the end of the year. But asking businesses for donations last spring felt unethical, Fisher said, so the usual campaign was forgone. The CARES grant will help cover some of that loss.
Chief clerk Andrew Seder said that it should be noted that the nearly $2.6 million allocation to local businesses and nonprofits is just one part of how the county is using its CARES Act funding. The remaining funds are going toward various administrative costs and other COVID-related projects, like broadband deployment—something Wood said is integral to the region’s economic recovery.
“The importance of broadband cannot be overstated. Government funding programs do exist to help with broadband expansion, but restrictions often limit our ability to use them. We also cannot expect private service providers to make investments in low-density population areas when there is not a business case to do so,” she said. “We need solutions that are simple to administer, remove barriers to the time and cost of deployment, and incentivize public/private partnerships.”
Seder said that the recipients must use the money on CARE Act-approved, COVID-related expenses by the end of the year, otherwise, the money will be returned to the county to be reallocated. The auditing of CARES Act spending will be done through the PA Department of Community and Economic Development.
For a complete list of monies received