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With half of its allocated money awarded to applicants so far, the Oklahoma Industries Authority (OIC) is intensifying efforts to process applications for a program to help county small businesses.

The Oklahoma County Small Business and Nonprofit Grant program is funded with $15 million of the Oklahoma County’s CARES Act funds.

Half-way there

As of the close of business Friday, December 4, $8.4 million of the funds have been approved to 141 businesses and nonprofits according to Debbie Anglin, spokesperson for OIA General Manager Cathy O’Connor.

The average size of each award so far has been about $60,000.

Not all applicants have been notified yet because of the speed of the process.

Anglin said that some of the bank loan officers evaluating the applications will work over the weekend and some will not. The disbursement committee will meet again on Monday and continue to work as hard as they can to apply as much of the funds as possible.

More applications than money

The program opened applications on November 23 but stopped accepting applications just five days later because it was clear that they would not have enough funds to apply to the crush of demand. Over 800 applications were received in that short time.

“The demand was high; within just five days of opening the applications, we received requests from businesses and nonprofits in Oklahoma County for more than four times the amount of available funding,” said O’Connor in a prepared statement.

“We are working extended hours in order to review and process the applications. Our goal is to get these grants into the hands of businesses and nonprofits as quickly as possible to help with critical expenses, preserve jobs and stabilize our small business economy.”

Underway, short window

The program was approved in the November 16 Board of County Commissioners meeting. Commissioners directed the Oklahoma Industries Authority to take charge of the program, solicit applications, process them, and commit the money before a hard deadline of Wednesday, December 9.

Commissioner Carrie Blumert, who held out for the small business grant program over the last several months, would like to see that last $10 million applied to one more program to help small businesses.

“I was overwhelmed by the amount of applications and how quickly people applied,” Blumert told Free Press Friday. “And, I’m so happy we are doing this program. But at the same time, it makes me sad, because not everyone is going to get the funding they need.”

Blumert was also positive about the $1.5 million that has been dedicated to eviction relief in the county coordinated by the Oklahoma County Home Finance Authority that has staff members at the courthouse every day offering assistance to those who are there because of the threat of eviction.

Other uses?

When we talked with Commissioner Brian Maughan Friday, he was skeptical that the program would get to award the whole amount by the deadline just because of the federal qualification hurdles applicants would have to meet.

Maughan said that in that event perhaps law enforcement and County Courthouse improvements for distancing and safe, efficient movement of people for jury trials may be an application if the DA’s office finds it legal.

“I’m waiting on a legal opinion about whether or not there’s some way we can do some reimbursement to law enforcement and stuff which would free up some of our general fund dollars,” Maughan told Free Press.

Maughan also said that he believes the next round of relief from the Congress will be to provide direct relief to individuals and not be providing more relief to governments.

“I think the Congress has probably already expected local government entities to have implemented those kinds of [relief] measures as best they could, this next round really, to me, is going to be really aimed towards citizen relief, not government infrastructure relief,” said Maughan.

“Trust me, I hear it, I hear the needs,” said Maughan. “And I understand that. I mean, my gosh, I empathize with these people.”

Jail issues

The Jail Trust originally was given around $34 million but then returned about $25 million back to the Commissioners saying they could not spend it all in time.

Of that $25 million, the $15 million was allocated to the business grant program leaving $10 million yet to be allocated.

Months lost

After being stalled for several months of wrangling about how to spend their about $47 million in CARES Act relief funds, Oklahoma County is now rushing to apply those funds to county government, businesses, and nonprofits.

Four months were expended on the majority of commissioners – Kevin Calvey and Maughan – trying to get the Jail Trust to spend about $34 million on Jail improvements only to have the trust give back about $25 million.

The deadline for all CARES Act recipient governments in the U.S. is December 30. Any funds not spent by then must be returned to the U.S. Treasury.

Last Updated December 4, 2020, 8:16 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor