ENTERPRISE — Checks of anywhere from about $1,200 to more than $14,000 are just days away from going out to Wallowa County businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic now that the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners has voted to disburse the funds.
Just over a month ago, the county received a one-time payment of $563,232 from the state through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to be used by the county to assist local businesses for expenditures that occurred from March 1 to Dec. 30.
On Monday, Dec. 28, the commissioners formally agreed in a special session to disburse the funds. Last week, they established criteria for how that money would be divided up among 67 businesses that had submitted applications and were approved. The funds are to be disbursed by today, Dec. 30.
Commissioner Susan Roberts said the county received a total of 75 applications, but eight did not qualify.
The single-page application requested a minimum of information, such as basic information on the business and how it was affected by Gov. Kate Brown’s executive orders requiring either full or partial shutdowns. A business could show that it was forced to close or compare the income of a month in 2020 with the same month in 2019. The number of full- and part-time employees also was included.
Roberts said the board developed a point system that took various circumstances into consideration. She gave as examples restaurants who were not allowed to seat customers on the premises. Some were able to switch directly to takeout only, while others may have had to go to extra expense to make that conversion. Other businesses, such as gyms, for example, were forced to close completely for a period of time.
“We set up scoring criteria, which is what we were supposed to do in order to come up with a variable range of scores for the applicants,” Roberts said. “We did that and then we scored each of them independently and scored those and put that combined score and averaged that out and the applicants fell into a range. We put the total points into the total amount of money that told us how much each applicant would get.”
“We tried to make it as fair as we could,” Commissioner Todd Nash said.
However, some aspects of the entire COVID-19 relief package seemed a bit unfair to the commissioners.
“The first pool of money went to the state except for Multnomah and Washington counties, which got direct payments,” Commissioner John Hillock said. “The rest of us smaller counties had to grumble to the state and this is what they decided to give to us. The federal package and what actually gets to us may be two very different things.”
But the commissioners weren’t entirely dissatisfied.
“All of the counties worked very hard to get this money back to each county because it was unfair the metro area getting its own specific payment,” Hillock said. “I was a little miffed because they shared this money with the metro area, as well. They got a big hunk of it, where they’d already been funded. It’s not totally fair, but it’s better than not getting anything.”
“Each of the 36 counties got a half-million dollars,” Roberts said. “Then you got extra money depending on your population. Take Wheeler County (with just over 1,300 population). It got $501,100 but they didn’t have very many businesses, either. So it’ll impact them a whole lot more. Wallowa County (with a population of roughly 7,100), got the half-million plus whatever the formula was for the population gave us another $63,232. We have to split that among the 67 businesses that qualified under the criteria.”
Roberts said successful applicants would be contacted by email and also will have to sign a form signifying that the information on the initial application was true.
“That puts the onus back on the applicant,” she said. “That’s following the state guidelines.”
She said once recipients submit a verification form, they can either come to the courthouse to pick up their checks or opt to receive it by mail.
“If you’re a recipient, you’ll be hearing from us,” Roberts said.