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COVID Update: Funds approved to aid businesses, local money awarded

MARQUETTE — The Michigan Strategic Fund on Tuesday approved a $100 million program that will provide grants to small businesses around the state working to recover from the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 virus, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation announced.

The Michigan Strategic Fund authorized distribution of the funding across 15 local or nonprofit economic development organizations covering all 83 counties in the state to provide a base amount of $3.5 million per EDO for grants up to $20,000 each.

InvestUP was awarded $4,545,455.

“The COVID-19 virus has especially impacted Michigan’s food and agriculture sector. This investment will provide critical resources to ensure the safety of Michigan’s food production industry and its workforce,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a news release. “We can further our economic recovery in Michigan by putting federal dollars through the CARES Act to work for the people and businesses across our state through efforts like these grants to farms and food processors.”

The state of Michigan has appropriated $100 million of federal Coronavirus Act, Relief and Economic Security Act funding through Senate Bill 690, signed into law by Whitmer last week, to implement the Michigan Small Business Restart Program to support Michigan’s small businesses that are reopening and have experienced a loss of income as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

The Michigan Small Business Restart Program application will be live starting July 15 online at michiganbusiness.org/restart and run through Aug. 5. Funds can be used as working capital to support payroll expenses, rent, mortgage payments, utility expenses or other similar expenses.

Positive test noted

OBGYN Associates of Marquette P.C. reported it has one staff member who tested positive, but is taking the necessary steps to keep the public safe.

“We would first like to say that since COVID-19 and this pandemic began, we have taken the necessary precautions to keep our staff and our patients safe,” it said in an announcement. “However, there is always the potential for a positive case due to the way this disease presents.”

OBGYN Associates said the staff member is asymptomatic.

It also noted it is following guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Although it was not required, all of our staff and our providers have tested for COVID and we have received some results that are negatives so far, including our physicians,” it said.

Complete results were not to be available until today.

“Please be assured that we have taken the necessary precautions and testing of our staff so we can continue to maintain a safe environment for our patients,” the OBGYN release said. “However, if you develop any symptoms, please contact your primary care provider. Anyone who is uncomfortable with an appointment this week, please call to reschedule.”

Possible exposure sites identified

With contact tracing and case investigation, the Luce-Mackinac-Alger-Schoolcraft District Health Department identified several sites as possible places of exposure to COVID-19.

The possible exposure times were on June 27 at 2:30 p.m., on the top deck of the Star Line Ferry from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island, 3 to 5 p.m. in the bar dining area of the Pink Pony at the Chippewa Hotel on Mackinac Island, and 6 or 6:30 p.m. on the top deck of the Star Line Ferry from Mackinac Island to Mackinaw City.

Anyone present at any of these locations during the times noted are asked to monitor for symptoms and contact their local health department. For Mackinac County residents, call 906-643-1100. Chippewa County residents should call 906-635-1566 while Cheboygan County residents should call 231-627-8850.

Guts Frisbee tourney off

It was announced on Facebook that the U.S. National Guts Frisbee Tournament, which was set for Aug. 1-2 at Tourist Park in Marquette, has been canceled.

It was decided that local organizers would not be able to comply with strict guidelines, including testing players for their temperature before every game and sanitizing discs, and they did not want to risk “the repercussions of an outbreak.”

Attorneys general fight rule

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra are leading a coalition of six attorneys general in a court action against a rule issued by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that would limit the ability of public schools to use federal funds provided under the CARES Act.

Nessel filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Tuesday over the U.S. Department of Education’s rule, issued July 1, which requires local education agencies to choose between two methods for allocating CARES Act funds — both of which contradict CARES Act requirements — rather than distributing the money based on Title I, Part A allocations as required in the act.

DeVos’s rule also makes all private school students potentially eligible for equitable services funded by CARES Act money.

The issue turns on how much federal CARES Act money public school districts must share with surrounding private schools, how public and private schools can use those funds and whether all private school students, including affluent students, may receive services intended by Congress to benefit economically disadvantaged students, Nessel said.

She noted the CARES Act stipulates that districts must provide private school students with equitable services in the same manner as required under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Title I’s formula for private school services requires districts to allocate money based on the number of low-income students in private schools.

DeVos’s rule, however, says coronavirus relief money should be distributed based on the total number of students in any private school that wishes to participate, and that equitable services must be provided to all students enrolled, even affluent students.

DeVos’s interpretation not only contradicts the plain language of the CARES Act but could mean that — in districts with large private school populations — public schools serving low-income students would receive less relief money, which would instead be diverted to their private school peers, Nessel said.

UIA meets goal

Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency has met its goal to make a determination on all currently eligible, certifying unpaid claims that were filed before May 1. The agency will continue to clear out its remaining backlog and make a determination on all unpaid claims filed prior to June 1 by July 20.

Since March 15, around 2.1 million eligible claimants have applied for state and federal benefits, with over $15 billion in benefits paid to more than 2 million workers. In addition, 97.2% of potentially eligible, certifying claimants have received or are approved for benefits. Of the remaining unpaid claimants, most are flagged for potential impostor fraud.

Currently, less than 39,000 unpaid claims have yet to be resolved and are being held for additional identity verification, while only around 20,000 unpaid claims are held pending adjudication for other reasons.

Agricultural aid available

A total of $15 million in economic assistance for Michigan farms and agricultural processors to mitigate risks of the COVID-19 virus across the state’s food production industry gained approval from the Michigan Strategic Fund, the MEDC and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, it was announced on Tuesday.

Applicants must apply as either a processor or a farm — but not both — and funds will provide grants of up to $1,000 per employee to fund COVID-19 mitigation costs, including but not limited to testing costs, personal protection equipment, facility needs, increased sanitation costs, employee training and upgraded safety procedures for farm-provided housing.

The program will cover costs incurred through Sept. 14. Eligible applicants will be able to apply for funding beginning July 15. Grants will be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis until all funding has been awarded.

Applications will be processed by East Lansing-based GreenStone Farm Credit Service, which will host the application portal, complete an initial screening of all applications and supporting documentation, and recommend applications to the MEDC for final approval and disbursements of the grants awarded.

GreenStone will also provide a report to the MEDC of all applications that were denied in the review process. The authorizing legislation for the program also requires reporting on Oct. 15 to the Legislature and State Budget Office on the Agricultural Safety Grant Program’s results, and that report will also be available at michiganbusiness.org/agsafety.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net

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