By Sandy Rhodes
ERIE — Erie County has received more than $24 million of grant money that will help communities throughout the county recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The grant is part of Pennsylvania’s share of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Erie County Council approved a plan to spend the $24.3 million during its meeting on Aug. 4.
“This is an opportunity for businesses to apply for a grant. This is not a loan,” said Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper during her weekly COVID-19 press conference on Aug. 5.
Dahlkemper said the county was working on getting the application on the county’s website at eriecountypa.gov with the hopes of having it online by the end of the month.
Once that happens, the county will be able to turn those applications into grant money for those who need it.
“The goal here is to try to help as many businesses and as many nonprofits as we can and help them survive this virus and this pandemic,” Dahlkemper said.
As time goes by, it will get harder for the businesses to stay open.
“It’s going to be very, very difficult as we move into the fall and winter and a restaurant has outdoor seating,” Dahlkemper said. “It’s going to get much more difficult.
“We understand this and we hope both the federal and state governments are looking at other ways to support our businesses as they did with the PPP,” she said, referring to the Paycheck Protection Program.
Dahlkemper said Erie County is not alone in the struggle.
“This is really a national issue and we are doing what we can locally to assist those businesses,” she said.
Dahlkemper also mentioned the Small Business Development Center at Gannon University that can help struggling businesses.
“There are a multitude of ways we have to help our businesses survive this,” she said.
The budget for the money includes:
• $6.5 million to assist nonprofit agencies.
• $4,953,029 for Erie County’s direct response to the pandemic.
• $5 million for a small business assistance program. The program will be administered by the Erie County Redevelopment Authority.
• $2,575,799 for Erie Events to offset losses from the closure of UPMC Park, Erie Insurance Arena, the Warner Theatre and the Bayfront Convention Center.
• $1.25 million for municipal assistance.
• $1.08 million for broadband deployment in under-served areas. The Erie County Information Technology Department will use $750,000 to install Wi-Fi hotspots in areas across the county. Another $80,000 will go toward Wi-Fi hotspot user stations. And Impact Corry and the City of Corry Broadband Deployment program will receive $250,000.
• $1 million to help supply small businesses with personal protective equipment.
•$600,000 for business assistance programs such as certified economic development organizations, local development districts and industrial resource centers. The plan adopted by County Council Tuesday will provide $300,000 to the Gannon University Small Business Development Center, $240,000 to the Erie County Redevelopment Authority and $60,000 to the Northwest Industrial Resource Center
• $200,000 for substance abuse and mental health services, outreach and awareness.
• $200,000 to administer the grant.
Erie County was one of 60 counties in the state eligible to apply to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s COVID-19 County Relief Block Grant Program. The county’s application was submitted June 16 and the money was received July 15.