Summit County is offering $5 million in additional financial assistance to small businesses struggling during the coronavirus pandemic, with expanded criteria to allow more businesses to apply.

During a virtual meeting Monday, Summit County Council approved expanding the Summit County COVID-19 Small Business Emergency Relief Grant Program, which was created in March and provides grants of up to $5,000 to Summit County small businesses affected by the pandemic.

The county, which partnered with the Greater Akron Chamber to manage the program, is using part of the $94.4 million it received from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to fund the expansion.

The first round of grants, totaling $1.546 million, went to 311 businesses in April. There were close to 1,100 applicants, with about 610 deemed eligible. Of those, only 51% received funding.

County Council on Monday approved a resolution authorizing the county executive to execute a $5.4 million grant agreement with the Greater Akron Chamber, with $5 million going to grants to Summit County small businesses, $300,000 to provide other pandemic-related assistance to Summit County small businesses and $100,000 to administer the use and distribution of the grant funds.

The $300,000 is meant for future COVID-19 business relief efforts from the chamber for the rest of this year, said Brian Nelsen, chief of staff to the Summit County executive.

Nelsen said the chamber estimated its administrative costs to manage the program between the two rounds at $86,000, noting the time and effort the chamber has put into the program is "truly astounding."

"Small business has a bigger impact than most people think," said Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro. "The value of small businesses is often undervalued because they are just that: They’re small. Small businesses, however, are the lifeblood of our communities, and ours is no different."

Eligible expenses for the grants include businesses’ mortgage or rent payments, utility payments, health/property/casualty/liability insurance payments and employee salaries or wages.

To be eligible, a small business must be a for-profit enterprise with its principal place of business in Summit County. Nonprofit entities are not eligible, but the county has said it’s exploring a similar program for nonprofits.

Only businesses with between three and 25 employees were initially eligible to apply.

According to the chamber, the most significant disqualifying reason for an application was the number of employees reported by companies, with Greater Akron Chamber President and CEO Steve Millard saying about 260 applicants had fewer than three or more than 25 employees and weren’t eligible.

The guidelines have been changed to allow businesses with between two and 30 employees to apply. At least 50% of employees must be permanent residents of Summit County.

Sole proprietor or single-employee businesses will now be eligible for $2,000 grants, and sole proprietors will be allowed to use grants for revenue replacement.

The length of time a business has been in existence was increased from 12 to 15 months to accommodate the need for federal tax return filing. A business must have been in operation for at least 15 months prior to March 15, 2020, to apply.

Companies must not be permanently closed and must intend to continue their business.

The requirement to apply for U.S. Small Business Administration assistance has also been removed from the program.

Small businesses that applied and were otherwise eligible but did not receive funding and small businesses that did not initially apply for grant funds are also able to apply.

Millard said the chamber expects to reach about 1,600 companies in Summit County by the end of the process.

"It is literally making the differences between their ability to sort of get through this and not get through this. This is real money to a lot of these small businesses," he said. "While $5,000 in the scope of the county’s budget doesn’t sound like a lot of money, for many of these folks, it’s a month or two of rent, it’s a month or two of salary for somebody, so it is a really big deal."

Shapiro said the expansion of the program is meant to help bridge the gap small-business owners are facing given issues with other systems meant to help them during the pandemic.

"We know that unemployment is lagging and is at its highest level since the Great Depression," she said. "We also know that the Paycheck Protection [Program] has not reached so many of the small businesses that hopefully it was intended to reach."

The anticipated breakdown of the $5 million includes:

? About $1.4 million to fund existing applicants who were eligible in the first round but weren’t funded.

? About $1 million to fund existing applicants who are re-scored and may be deemed eligible.

? About $1.6 million to fund $5,000 grants to new applicants.

? About $1 million to fund $2,000 grants to new applicants.

The second-round application period will start at noon Thursday and run until 9 a.m. May 22.

For more information or to apply, visit gaccovid19.org/grantprogram or email covidgrant@greaterakronchamber.org.

Contact Beacon Journal reporter Emily Mills at emills@thebeaconjournal.com.