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Businesses must file today for slice of COVID pie

by CRAIG NORTHRUP
Staff Writer | December 1, 2020 1:00 AM

Coeur d’Alene businesses are letting a crucial deadline lapse today, leaving roughly $100,000 in federal funds on the table that were originally earmarked for COVID-19 relief.

At 5 p.m. today, the timeframe for applying to the city for federal CARES Act dollars passes, and while city accountant Stephanie Padilla said that a good chunk of the $340,000 has been allocated to local businesses, if the remaining $100,000 doesn’t get used, it will go back to the city to fund other COVID-related deficits.

“We’ve done about as much outreach as we can,” Padilla said. “At this point, what doesn’t get used will just get thrown back into the main general city coffers.”

The Coeur d’Alene city council will hear Padilla’s report tonight at its regularly scheduled meeting, at which point the council may decide what to do with the funds. The money — part of Idaho’s $1.25 billion slice of the CARES Act’s $2.2 trillion relief package — could then go back to fund anything COVID-related, from additional personal protective equipment to paying for pandemic-generated overtime.

“We have enough costs with wages and overtime,” Padilla said. “We have firefighters going out into quarantine all the time, so the fire department is constantly manning those schedules and working overtime.”

The $240,000 already set aside for businesses is going to day cares, retail stores and tourist-related companies, among others, to defray the costs the coronavirus has incurred after forcing businesses to close and later re-open to strict health protocols. Padilla said those funds are specifically going to reimburse companies for the cost of the new normal.

“The majority is going to things like Plexiglas,” she said, “masks, gloves, cleaners, electric static cleaners. Some of the daycares chose not to get the spray cleaners, but rather the ultraviolet cleaners. They’re getting portable air purifiers, though the state isn’t approving the installed air purifiers. Just the portable ones.”

The small business grant program is by no means the only COVID funding the city has seen as a result of the CARES Act. The city still has community block grant money specifically reserved for COVID-19 assistance, and businesses across Coeur d’Alene — and around the country — also reached out for help from the Payroll Protection Program, which covered payroll costs for up to eight weeks for many small businesses.

“The Payroll Protection Program has been a lifesaver for small businesses,” Mayor Steve Widmyer said. “They have been impacted the most during the pandemic. Small business will need additional assistance, and my hope is that the federal government will work to identify the employers and employees that have been negatively impacted, and made sure they are the ones getting the assistance.”

Those hopes might not come true before Christmas, however. Federal appropriators have agreed to the overall bill of $1.4 trillion in a second round of federal relief, but Congress has not yet come together on how those funds will be distributed. The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives reconvenes Wednesday, while the Republican-controlled Senate reconvened Monday. But the stimulus package might no longer be Congress’s first priority, as they must now come together on a government funding package no later than Dec. 11. Otherwise, the federal government would face a shutdown.

Coeur d’Alene business owners interested in applying for the city’s small business grants should reach out to Padilla at (208) 769-2221 or by email at spadilla@cdaid.org