Dozens more Crow Wing County businesses and nonprofit organizations along with area schools are set to benefit from a second round of grants made possible by federal coronavirus relief funds.
The Crow Wing County Board recently agreed to distribute additional funding to residents and institutions experiencing the impacts of COVID-19, after the first round of grant requests accounted for less than two-thirds of the money the board previously set aside.
For the second round, expanded criteria made businesses with more than 50 employees eligible for up to $10,000 grants. The county also agreed to offer dollars to impacted school districts along with organizations providing free day care for essential workers. Combined with the $1.5 million previously designated for CTC as part of a number of broadband expansion projects, 68% of the $8.8 million in federal funding went toward economic assistance.
The county’s funding was bolstered by contributions from city and township governments, which received their own portions and agreed to pass along leftovers for the local grant program. The remaining funds will offset costs experienced by the county as a direct result of the pandemic.
County Administrator Tim Houle said staff time for public safety and public health alone meant the county was presumptively eligible for a reimbursement exceeding the $8 million. This doesn’t include any of the expenditures the county’s made on personal protective equipment, telework software and network upgrades, Plexiglas dividers and several other capital expenses.
“We could’ve taken the whole thing just for ourselves,” Houle said. “We didn’t do that, and I’m pretty proud of the fact that what we have recommended for you sends about six and a half of the $8 million out the door. … Far and away most of the allocation that we got for federal CARES Act dollars went out into the community, and I think you should be proud of that.”
The remaining funds from each category along with unallocated dollars meant to be flexible in the grantmaking process will be rolled into covering the county’s expenses, or about $2.8 million. The figure could go up if the businesses or organizations do not submit the necessary paperwork proving their expenditures. The deadline set by the federal government to use the funds and provide documentation is Dec. 1.
Chairman Steve Barrows thanked the executive directors of the Lakes Area United Way and the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp. for their involvement, along with those who participated in committees to evaluate the applications.
“I know it’s been a lot of work in a short period of time. I know for our staff, we threw the election on top of all of that,” Barrows said. “So it’s just been an outstanding effort by everyone to get this money into the community where it will be utilized and hopefully help a lot of these businesses get through these winter months.”
Day care and schools
Organizations providing free day care included the three school districts located in Crow Wing County - Brainerd, Pequot Lakes and Crosby-Ironton - along with the Brainerd Family YMCA. Houle said none of the school districts applied for this stream of funding because they were able to cover those costs with their own federal allotments.
But the YMCA, which faced the additional challenges of the closure of its fitness facility by executive order along with significant roof damage from a torrential downpour in July, did apply for funds. The amount requested totaled $171,388, and staff recommended the board fund the full amount. The board unanimously approved the grant.
Another priority identified for the second round of grants was to offer additional money to school districts to help with costs beyond those covered by direct federal grant funding. The three county school districts along with St. Francis of Lakes Catholic School, Discovery Woods charter school and Lake Region Christian School submitted proposals.
Expenses incurred included increased sanitation, PPE, curriculum resources for distance learning, Chromebooks and laptops and increased staff costs. Pequot Lakes School District also sought funding to cover costs of restriping its parking lot at Eagle View Elementary School to assist with parent pickup and drop-off, which was expected to increase earlier this year as parents avoided busing.
All requests except for those from Lake Region were funded in full: Brainerd School District, $282,202; Crosby-Ironton School District, $61,463; Pequot Lakes School District, $85,182; Discovery Woods, $11,765; and St. Francis, $31,428.
Lake Region, which submitted an application Houle described as “robust,” received funds totaling $84,591. This covered the costs of sanitizing and a network upgrade, along with partially covering the costs of 170 laptops for students and transitioning teacher work stations from desktop computers to laptops.
The one request cut from Lake Region’s grant was about $13,000 requested for a temperature screening station. Houle said with many employers using handheld thermometers to screen temperatures, Lake Region’s setup appeared elaborate. Ultimately, the private Christian school ended up receiving the most grant funding per student of any of the applications.