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by Catherine Wilson, Freelance Reporter

Charles County’s Economic Development Department is offering a grant of up to $10,000 for local small businesses in response to the financial crisis caused by Covid-19.

For several months, non-essential businesses were forced to close to prevent the spread of the virus leaving many businesses without a source of revenue.

In late March the federal government issued the CARES Act that granted financial aid to those affected by the crisis, which included $2.5 million for Charles County small businesses.

State and federal financial aid programs were flooded with applications causing many small businesses to slip through the cracks.

Now that businesses have been cleared to reopen, small businesses are confronting Covid-19 prevention costs while operating at half capacity.

With businesses struggling to adapt to the costs associated with virus prevention, the department is looking to target the businesses that need the funds the most, specifically those that weren’t able to get federal or state aid.

“[We are] going through a list from the state and reaching out to all of the businesses that weren’t funded by the state,” Deputy Director of the Economic Development Department Marcia Keeth said.

After requesting and filling out an application, a committee goes through the submitted financial evidence to determine the needs of the business using a variety of factors.

“The scoring matrix includes the capacity and experience to operate a business. It includes their action plan, [which is] what they have done to address the crisis and the impacts that relate to how their business has been impacted by the crisis,” Keeth said.

There are also additional points awarded to businesses who classify as a minority or veteran owned business and attention is given to the financial losses reported by the businesses that apply.

After thorough review, applicants are awarded an amount based on how they scored on the matrix that generally arrives two to three weeks in the form of a check that doesn’t need to be paid back.

However, having a partially complete application can delay a business from getting the funds they need.

“The sooner they submit all their documents presented their application is going to go into review, because we do review them in a first come first served basis,” Keeth said.

The program is helmed by the Chief of Business Development for Charles County’s Economic Development Department Lucretia Freeman-Buster, who is working tirelessly to help businesses access the grant.

“We are working with our small business on a one on one time basis and trying to get them to get the application in,” Freeman-Buster said.

The COVID-19 Business Relief and Economic Recovery Grant Fund sets itself apart from other financial assistance programs by being 100% grant and affording its applicants a direct line of communication.

“We actually reached out to them with refined technical assistance to assist them in getting the applications in and I think that what was lacking on the federal and state levels,” Freeman-Buster said.

The program that launched June 9 has processed 94 applications totaling $640,000 worth of aid with $1.7 million left to still be awarded to those who apply.

Businesses with 75 employees or fewer, which includes locally owned franchises are eligible for the grant and can be requested here. Those wanting more information on the program can visit https://www.meetcharlescounty.com/charles-county-covid-19-business-grants/.