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posted: 8/26/2020 5:20 AM

Kane County opens up millions in COVID-19 grants for local businesses, non-profits

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Up to $10 million in federal grants for Kane County businesses and not-for-profit organizations affected by the COVID-19 pandemic are now available.

The county board approved the grant program in a special meeting Tuesday after nearly four months of determining how to distribute $93 million it received from the federal CARES Act.

Of the $10 million, $8 million is earmarked for small businesses. The county defines a small business as having no more than the equivalent of 50 full-time employees and earning a maximum of $2.5 million in gross revenues in calendar year 2019.

Businesses must also have experienced a revenue reduction because of the pandemic. They must be open or reopened for business as of Aug. 1. And they must have a physical location within the county and be in good standing with all federal, state and local regulations.

The county board did exclude certain businesses from the program: home-based businesses, adult entertainment establishments, banks and payday or title loan lenders. Marijuana, vaping or tobacco establishments are also excluded.

Corporate chains are not eligible unless incorporated as an independent franchisee.

Businesses formed before Jan. 1, 2019, can receive a grant of up to $20,000. Those formed after that date are eligible for grants of up to $10,000. The grants will be given on a reimbursement basis, meaning businesses must document pandemic-related expenses.

Such expenses include utility bills, personal protective equipment, cleaning services and minor physical modifications to businesses to comply with social distancing requirements. Equipment purchases and internet fees associated with allowing employees to work remotely are eligible for reimbursement. Payroll costs are not eligible.

The remaining $2 million is set aside for local not-for-profit organizations with similar expenses. The nonprofits must be located in Kane County and registered as a 501(c)(3) organization to be eligible.

Only those that operate homeless shelters, food banks or provide health services will be considered.

The county expects some large grant requests from not-for-profit groups. Aurora-based Hesed House has repeatedly expressed a need for $500,000 to winterize a shelter housing more than 100 people.

Grant applications are due Oct. 2. The Kane County state's attorney's office and an outside accounting firm will screen applications for the appropriate criteria. The full county board will make a final decision on applications at its Nov. 10 meeting.

There is some controversy surrounding the screening process. County board Chairman Chris Lauzen accused the state's attorney's office of a possible violation of the procurement act Tuesday in selecting the accounting firm Kerber, Eck and Braeckel.

Lauzen said he asked to see the Springfield-based firm's proposal more than two weeks ago but hasn't received it. The full county board has approved hiring the firm.

"I understand that is the will of the board," Lauzen said. "Eventually, all of this will need to stand up to an audit."

Neither the board nor the state's attorney's office responded to Lauzen Tuesday, continuing what he described as a pattern of excluding him from most of the major decisions involving the $93 million.

"We all understand that you don't want me involved in this process," Lauzen said.