Next wave of $20M in COVID-19 grants for Ventura County businesses, charities on its way

A new wave of $5,000 grants to help businesses, charities and religious organizations weather the

A new wave of $5,000 grants to help businesses, charities and religious organizations weather the coronavirus pandemic is headed for approval, county officials announced this week.

See how the latest rollbacks are affecting Ventura County business owners

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The tax-funded program with grants totaling at least $20 million was approved in concept Tuesday by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors. Managers plan to return to the board for approval of the final terms as quickly as possible, perhaps by Jan. 26.

Their estimates show that the grants — which do not have to be repaid but are taxable— could be awarded by late March or early April. 

The program is similar to the first effort approved last year for awarding of roughly $20 million in grants. Those awards of $5,000 apiece were paid out of federal relief funding and went to roughly 3,900 local businesses and nonprofit agencies, officials said.



a group of people in a room: Tulip Nails II in Thousand Oaks reopened Friday and was completely booked up for the next couple of days. Personal care businesses, including nail salons, massage and skin care parlors, piercing shops and tattoo parlors were permitted to reopen Friday.


© JUAN CARLO/THE STAR
Tulip Nails II in Thousand Oaks reopened Friday and was completely booked up for the next couple of days. Personal care businesses, including nail salons, massage and skin care parlors, piercing shops and tattoo parlors were permitted to reopen Friday.

Supervisors supported awarding the new round of $20 million in grants out of the county’s general fund to meet the continuing need. They hope to get some reimbursement from the federal government, but it’s not guaranteed.

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“COVID’s not going anywhere,” Supervisor Matt LaVere said. “Neither are the needs of these businesses.”

Churches to be allowed 

Businesses and nonprofits that did not receive a grant in the first round will be preferred for funding in the second one, according to management’s proposal for the program.

Some organizations would be eligible for the first time, such as churches, business associations and veterans organizations. They must be registered as qualified nonprofits with the Internal Revenue Service and may not be engaged in lobbying activities.

All businesses and nonprofits receiving grants must be complying with county and state public health orders to restrict spread of the virus —  a definition that would exclude restaurants and gyms that have refused to close.

The cap on annual revenues of qualifying businesses has also been raised to $2.5 million instead of the previous maximum of $2 million.  

Priority will be given to women-owned businesses, minority-owned businesses, businesses located in disadvantaged communities and veterans organizations, the proposal shows. 

Businesses with employees versus self-employed individuals will also be preferred for grants under direction given by the board. 

Related: Grants to struggling Ventura County businesses stalled as board balks at contract

Foundation dispute

Businesses will be required to acknowledge that certain information about their businesses may be released as public records.

That became an issue with the first grants when the Ventura County Community Foundation, which administered those awards, objected to releasing the names of the businesses receiving the money. The foundation conceded after county supervisors insisted on getting the names for the sake of transparency before they would fully fund the program.

More: Community Foundation will disclose Ventura County businesses that receive grants

Recipients were never told in advance that their names would be disclosed and some feared they would be seen as unsuccessful because they were taking government aid, the foundation said.

The nonprofit ultimately released the names after giving recipients the opportunity to withdraw from the program if they did not want to have their names released.

Of the roughly 3,900 businesses that had received the money or had applied and were deemed eligible, only 21 organizations withdrew.

Recipients obviously had a financial incentive to stay in the program, but an official said the foundation also tried to show them they were hardly alone. 

“We spent a lot of time helping businesses understand that almost every business needs this help, especially small businesses,” foundation CEO Vanessa Bechtel said. “It is critical that we have a strong business community when this is over because that’s our future.” 

Read next: Millions for businesses in limbo as county, foundation battle over public records

The foundation has decided not to administer the grants in the second program because of time and staff constraints and the continued demand for helping the first group of recipients, she said.

The county has been searching for a new contractor to administer the program and one should be identified shortly, county official Scott Powers said. 

The breakdown

Supervisors have supported giving out the awards to small businesses, which generally appeared to be the case in first round, according to a chart presented to the board Tuesday. 

The breakdown showed that 77% of the grants went to businesses and nonprofits with annual revenues of $25,000 to $500,000. Another 14% of the grants went to recipients with annual revenues of $500,000 to $1 million and 8% to the top end at $1 million to $2 million. 

A list of recipients’ names the county released after the dispute with the foundation was resolved does not show their revenues. But many are commonly viewed as small businesses, such as cafes, nail and hair salons, florists, body shops and cleaners. Professional practices are also included, such as dentists and accountants.

Ventura County is directing businesses and nonprofits interested in the second grant program to visit www.vcreopens.com to register for re-opening and to sign up for updates. All businesses will receive direct email communication about the program as it becomes available and will be informed when the application period starts, officials said. 

Kathleen Wilson covers the Ventura County government, including the county health system, politics and social services. Reach her at [email protected] or 805-437-0271.

This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Next wave of $20M in COVID-19 grants for Ventura County businesses, charities on its way

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