COVID-19 dominated the Pierce County Council’s Aug. 4 meeting agenda, with the council unanimously passing two emergency ordinances making more funding available to local businesses struggling from the impacts of the pandemic.

Proposal No. 2020-82 doubles the total amount of funding available through a previously established COVID-19 Adaptation Grant Program, bringing the total authorized for assistance to $10 million, up from $5 million.

Proposal No. 2020-83 establishes a COVID-19 Commercial Rent and Mortgage Payment Assistance Program, which provides limited assistance to eligible businesses to help protect jobs threatened by the pandemic.

The increase in Adaptation Grant Program funding to eligible local businesses is based on the number of full-time equivalent employees. Initially, the maximum amount of grant money available was $8,000 for eligible businesses and $10,000 for facilities providing care to the elderly or other vulnerable adults.

The new maximum amount available is up to $8,000 and $10,000 respectively for businesses with 20 or fewer full-time equivalent employees or facilities providing care for the elderly or other vulnerable adults; $25,000 for those with 21 to 100 full-time employees; and $50,000 for businesses or facilities providing care for the elderly or other vulnerable adults with more than 100 full-time equivalent employees.

The expanded program also provides support to farmers markets, which are eligible to receive a grant for up to $25,000 to address operational changes due to the pandemic.

“The ordinance is necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health or safety, or to support the county government and its existing institutions because businesses in Pierce County are at risk of imminent failure, which threatens the public’s ability to meet its basic health and safety needs, and threatens tax revenue streams that county government relies upon to provide essential government service,” explained Hugh Taylor, senior legislative analyst.

The council previously established the COVID-19 Adaptation Grant Program to supply grants to businesses and nonprofit organizations to help them implement changes to daily operations to comply with pandemic-related public health guidelines. Grants cover up to half of these operational changes up to the allowed maximum funding amounts. The council instructed the Economic Development Department to develop and implement grant review and approval requirements.

Under the Commercial Rent and Mortgage Payment Assistance Program, the Economic Development Department is authorized to disburse $2.5 million to businesses needing assistance with rent or mortgage payments.

Eligible businesses may receive up to three months of commercial rent or mortgage payment assistance in the form of a grant not to exceed $5,000 per month, or the monthly rent or mortgage obligation for the business, whichever is less. Businesses cannot receive more than the $15,000 in assistance under the program.

“This program is intended to provide support to those businesses that are facing significant limitations in their operations under Phase 2 through 3 and 4 of the 'Safe Start' re-opening plan,” Taylor said.

Additional eligibility requirements include documenting how operations and activities are limited by the “Safe Start” re-opening plan; demonstrating a minimum 25 percent revenue reduction attributable to the pandemic; proof of operation and occupation of commercial space under a lease or rental agreement or commercial mortgage in Pierce County prior to March 23, 2020; and proof of continued operation and occupation of commercial space under a lease or rental agreement or commercial mortgage in Pierce County.

Funding for both ordinances comes from the $158 million Pierce County received from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, more commonly known as the CARES Act.

In other business, the Pierce County Council unanimously passed a supplemental ordinance to the 2020-2021 biennial budget related to the pandemic. In short, Proposal No. 2020-73 allocates remaining CARES Act funding to specific programs: food security, childcare and employment of youth and young people.