Dial-back restrictions updated/County to receive $830,000 in state aid

Following the latest round of “dial-back” restrictions to businesses across the state, Governor Tim Walz Wednesday signed off on a bipartisan relief package that will provide $216.5 million in state aid, as well as a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits.

The bill easily passed House and Senate, which voted 117-13 and 62-4, respectively, during the seventh special session of the year Monday.

This economic relief package will provide funding for counties to establish grants for eligible businesses and nonprofits that have shown a loss in revenue due to the pandemic, with funding formulas based on each county’s population size, as well as businesses’ profit losses and number of employees.

The bill disburses money from three “buckets”: The Department of Revenue, The Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and funds from the state straight to individual counties.

State-wide, the bill will allocate:

  • $114.8 million to companies to establish grants aiding restaurants, bars, gyms and fitness centers.
  • $88 million from the Department of Revenue to businesses that have shown at lease a 30% decline in revenue and that serve on-site food and beverages, such as restaurants and bars, as well as fitness or sports recreation centers. Payments range from $10-$45,000 based on number of employees.
  • $14 million from DEED to movie theatres and multi-purpose conventions centers with a capacity of at least 1,500 people.
  • Locally, Kandiyohi County is expected to receive upwards of $830,000, according to Aaron Backman, Executive Director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission (EDC).

Disbursement of funds given to counties will be similar to previous relief grants, like the federal CARES Act, from which the EDC drew money to create its Coronavirus Relief Program. This program allowed the EDC local control over expenditures of federal funds to area businesses and nonprofits.

“Each county does have flexibility to design their own program, and that’s where discussions are going,” Backman said. Backman anticipates the EDC and Kandiyohi County administration will work jointly on the new program.

As for when these dollars will be distributed and how businesses and nonprofits can apply, Backman said the EDC is still receiving guidance from the state, but “applications probably will be accepted in January.” However, holidays also may cause some delays, and the parameters of the program still need to be determined, he said.

Although the program is still in its early stages, Backman said the EDC will begin outreach to businesses and nonprofits, including those who may not have previously received state and federal relief funds. And while businesses are expected to take priority over nonprofits, further details will be discussed at the county board meeting January 5, at which point formal parameters may be adopted.

While the Department of Revenue’s $88 million will be allocated to businesses showing a 30% profit loss, Backman said the county’s disbursements process may mirror its previous CPR program, which lowered that figure to 20%.

Representative Dave Baker, one of the chief authors of the bill, said roughly half of the county’s businesses will receive funding from the Department of Revenue. Because this department already has businesses’ information on hand, Baker expects these funds to arrive first, possibly by the end of the month.

Though Baker said he’s glad to see a bipartisan relief bill passed in just three weeks, he noted that these grants are a “lifeline” not a solution.

It’s not enough to make [businesses] whole, but just to get them some money to hang on a bit longer,” until they are able to reopen or federal support arrives, he said.

Still, Baker said he was “very disappointed” by the Governor’s orders Wednesday, stating in addition to relaxing social distancing in households, the same should apply to restaurants and bars, at a 50% capacity.

“That’s not to say I don’t think restrictions are needed in some way—healthcare staff need our support, but it’s coming at such a cost to an industry that’s decimated,” he said.

Meanwhile, businesses across the state remain divided—split between waiting out the restriction period and reopening in spite of the latest dial-back orders.

Scott West, owner of Westwood Café in Spicer, said he was unsurprised by Wednesday’s orders, and “hadn’t even planned on opening” this week. “I’d be better off closed,” he said, adding that being unable to break even, he is only continuing to operate on a take-out basis to provide money for his staff. “It’s too bad, but it’s just the way it is… We’ll just have to get through it and hopefully open in early January after the holidays.”

However, Chrissy Quimby, owner of Xpress Fitness Lodge in Willmar, stated she does not plan to enforce the 25% capacity limits at her gym—though she said surpassing the capacity limit is unlikely due in part to a decline in enrollment.

The gym joins—as the sole business in the county to do so—roughly 150 businesses across the state named in a list released by the ReOpen Minnesota Coalition. Signees include businesses who have pledged to reopen regardless of the Governor’s orders.

From a financial standpoint, Quimby said that she has little to lose if fines are imposed. I’m self-employed and built [the business] from scratch,” she said. “it feels like we’re starting over from nothing and losing everything…If they tried coming after me or laid fines on me—you can’t bring somebody further down than they already are. It’s to the point where I can only go up from here.”

Quimby added that she acknowledge the risks of COVID, but expressed doubts on the validity of reported data.

“I’m not trying to say it’s not serious—I’ve had friends that have died from COVID, and I feel there’s so much misconception with it and so many things that have been changed or portrayed in different ways or covered up…”

“Everyone needs to take responsibility for their own health and make responsible decisions,” she said.

Lakes Area Review by Brett Blocker

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