More financial help is coming for restaurants and bars affected by the pandemic and subsequent shutdowns.

The federal government will administer $28.6 billion in grants nationwide available through the American Rescue Plan Act — money that can be used as small-business owners see fit.

“This is fantastic news for the food and beverage industry throughout St. Louis County,” planning and community development director Matthew Johnson said during a St. Louis County Board workshop this week. “It is important for our food and beverage industry to be aware of this opportunity and even more important to make sure they do apply.”

The federal Small Business Administration will award grants through the Restaurant Revitalization Program.

Unlike previous rounds of funding aimed at covering costs associated with COVID-19 improvements or payroll, the new funding has no such restrictions, with grants ranging between $1,000 and $5 million depending on size.

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The formula used when applying for money is simple for established businesses: Owners will subtract 2020’s gross receipts, minus any previous forms of rescue funds, from gross receipts earned in 2019.

“It is a substantial amount of money,” Johnson said.

While it is a federal program, the county has a team of eight employees who are fully trained on the program to assist local business owners in applying for the funding.

The county will host two virtual information sessions to provide information and answer questions about the program. The sessions will be 11 a.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Wednesday. Links to join the meeting can be found on the county's COVID-19 business resources page: stlouiscountymn.gov/c19business.

Mike Jugovich
Mike Jugovich

“The restaurants and bars in our county have faced enormous challenges during this pandemic, and we urge them to apply for one of these grants,” said County Board Chair Mike Jugovich in a news release. “While the county doesn’t have a say in how these funds are distributed, our staff has prioritized getting educated on the program’s guidelines so we can be a resource for business owners as they work through the application process.”

All told, 1,350 businesses in St. Louis County accessed earlier rounds of COVID-19 relief — many of those were bars and restaurants forced to shut down during periods of high virus transmission.

Funds must be used by no later than March 11, 2023. Full guidelines can be found at sba.gov.

Johnson also reported during the County Board workshop this week that administration continues to learn more about its $54.3 million in Rescue Act funding — which will allow for economic development, capital projects and transit funds.

“We’re still learning more about that opportunity,” Johnson said.

The city of Duluth will receive $60 million.

“It makes sense to not overlap our spending, but hopefully we can complement each other, to leverage funds as much as possible,” Johnson told commissioners.

Finally, the county will have access to $377 billion in federal Rescue Act funds geared toward improving broadband service and connection to underserved areas.

At a workshop in March, commissioners pledged to bring better internet access to rural areas after having seen firsthand how those places were most affected during periods of remote learning in schools and work-from-home scenarios throughout the pandemic.

Johnson said the county’s approach will be to put itself in position to apply early and often once processes are in place.

“I see our role as helping projects get past the finish line,” Johnson said.