By Jeff Harrison
Midwest City Beacon
More help is on the way for businesses and community groups in Midwest City impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Midwest City Memorial Hospital Authority will award more than $340,000 in COVID related relief grants for local businesses and community groups.
The Midwest City Memorial Hospital Authority Board of Grantors and the Authority Trustees voted last week to open the grant program to both community groups and businesses.
City officials expect to announce details about the application process next week.
“We’re still working the application forms since they will need to be dual purpose for business and community grants and still need to hone in on dates for it,” said Robert Coleman, Midwest City economic development director.
The Board of Grantors normally awards community grants to local non-profit organizations, community groups and public entities. The group shifted its focus towards local businesses last year in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In July, the city launched the COVID-19 Small Businesses Disaster Recovery Program. It focused solely on all small businesses directly affected by Gov. Kevin Stitt’s executive orders. Grants ranged from $1,500 to $4,000. The program concluded in September after awarding about $93,000 in grants.
Last week, the board of grantors and trustees met to determine how to use the remaining $340,000 in the grant program.
Coleman recommended using the funds for a second phase of business relief. He suggested the funds be directed to: independent dining establishments, franchised dining establishments, hotelsand amusement venues. Grant money could only be used for rent or mortgage payments, personnel costs or benefits costs, materials or supplies related to business operations, promotions, new construction, utilities or other expenses pre-approved.
The categories were selected based on areas that have seen declines in sales tax collections. Coleman said he reviewed reports from the Oklahoma Tax Commission and used the North American Industry Classification System or NAICS to determine which classifications of businesses were seeing losses.
“Based on those codes, I contacted restaurateurs and hotel operators about how much their businesses were down,” he said. “I took all of that into account before bringing my recommendation.”
Councilman Pat Byrne agreed with the decision to direct funds towards businesses. He said that while the grant program was created to help non-profits and public entities, city leaders must adapt to the demands of the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is a completely different environment. It’s a pandemic and we’re trying to help small businesses get through this. It’s not a savior. It’s not going to keep them from going under but it may help them a little bit. We have the opportunity here to help Midwest City businesses maybe survive another month or two until that starts getting fixed,” Byrne said.
Other members of the city council and board of grantors objected to the narrow focus of the business grants and others believed they should not exclude community grants.
Councilwoman Susan Eads said the restrictions may block out new small businesses that need support.
“If you’re a solo owner of a business, you don’t have a corporate association to fall back on,” she said. “Many new businesses have opened in the last year that probably aren’t able to qualify for other assistance.”
After nearly an hour of discussion, Coleman pulled back on his recommendation and suggested opening the grant program to businesses and community groups.
“Why don’t we open it to everybody and everything and they can tell us what they need,” he said. “Just make your case about why you need the money.”
The Board of Grantors and Trustees approved the proposal.
After the application period is complete, Board of Grantors will review the grant proposal and make recommendations for awards. The Hospital Authority Trustees, which is comprised of the city council, will then vote on the recommendations, likely in April or May, according to Coleman.
The purpose of the Midwest City Community Improvement Grant Program is to improve the quality of life by funding effective projects that address the diverse issues and opportunities facing the Midwest City community.
The grant program is funded through proceeds from the lease of the hospital. Since 1998, the Hospital Authority Trust, with the assistance of the Board of Grantors, has awarded 294 grants to community organizations with a value of nearly $7 million.