It’s been months since Schuylkill County found out it would get nearly $13 million in CARES Act funds.
How the County decides to spend it is up to them.
On Wednesday, we learned at the latest Schuylkill County Commissioners meeting that at least some of that money is available for local businesses, presumably, but it it weren’t for one inquisitive taxpayer, we likely never would have heard about it.
The Schuylkill County CARES Act Grant Money for Small Business You Never Heard Of
During the second Public Comment period, Doug Litwhiler, of Ringtown and a frequent commentator at these meetings, asked the Commissioners what their plan is with the CARES Act money the County received.
He said he’s scoured the County website and couldn’t find anything. We agree. We’ve been looking for weeks and hoping to hear the roll-out of some grant program to aid local small businesses but so far, nothing.
“You guys have a good website and you can find just about anything on there but there’s nothing about the CARES Act money,” Litwhiler said.
It’s true. What’s happening with that CARES Act money Schuylkill County received is mostly a mystery.
On Wednesday, the County decided to spend $16,868.40 on a new Cisco firewall device from Shadow Technologies. This is for County government purposes only. It’ll only expand the bandwidth of their internet.
It does next to nothing for the public, as a whole.
As for what of the Schuylkill County CARES Act allocation is available for the small businesses adversely affected by the pandemic response, Hetherington had a response to Litwhiler.
“I’d like to suggest you contact Mr. Bender,” the new Commissioners chairman said, speaking of Schuylkill County Administrator Gary Bender. Bender, Hetherington said, “He’s pretty much in charge of the whole project working with businesses and municipalities.”
Wait … there’s a project? When was this announced?
Again, we scoured the Schuylkill County government website and found nothing.
Columbia County COVID-19 Small Business/Tourism Grant
If there is a “project” as Hetherington says there is, there’s been no grand announcement of it. Not even a peep about it until last Wednesday when it only came out in response to a taxpayer’s question about the CARES Act money.
Pretty typical, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. It looks like Schuylkill County government plans to spend the balance of its CARES Act money on itself and its needs. And the small businesses that keep the County operational can have the crumbs … provided they talk to “Mr. Bender” first.
What’s happening here with the CARES Act money is not like what’s happening in nearby Columbia County. In Bloomsburg, County Commissioners there established a COVID-19 Small Business/Tourism Grant Program.
This grant program was made public more than a month ago. And the deadline to apply for grants from it is on Monday night. The County even created an online application in conjunction wiht the Central Susquehanna Community Foundation. The money is for businesses who need to offset their losses caused by the state’s pandemic response.
It’s been funded with $3 million. That’s more than half of the $5.8 million Columbia County received overall.
Schuylkill County Guilt Trip
If there really is a “project”, why keep this secret? Is the money only for those businesses who have connections with County government officials?
It sounds like Schuylkill County government doesn’t trust just any business.
Hetherington added to his answer to Litwhiler last week. He said, “The big question is, ‘Is it a reimbursable expense or not?’ If it’s not authorized, the County has to repay it from the General Fund.”
Oddly enough, that’s why Columbia County created an application for its grant fund. They’re not just giving the money out willy-nilly to anyone that wants it. Small businesses who want in on the CARES Act money have to apply and show a need for the money.
While the County was allocated this money, it’s really intended for companies and organizations which lost revenue due to the pandemic. That’s pretty much all of them. And if you’re ranking them based on priority, only the government – well, at least our County government – would put itself on top of that list.
Yes, the County undoubtedly lost revenue during the pandemic. The hotel tax money likely pales in comparison to what it normally would be. But governments will exist even if they don’t get all their funding. However, the small businesses and volunteer organizations on which the government depends and every taxpayer needs at some point, may not be as lucky.
Here’s a look at the Columbia County grant program details: