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Aid to help local businesses affected by two-week statewide COVID-19 'freeze'

PAT KRUIS/MADRAS PIONEER - Garry Boyd, owner of the Great Earth Cafe & Market, Inc., says he worries about how COVID closures hurt employees he's had to lay off.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has committed $55 million to help Oregon businesses hurt by COVID-19 restrictions. Jefferson County will receive $716,000 to help local companies. The state announced Tuesday that each county will receive a base of $500,000 plus a per capita allocation of the remainder of the funds.

Jefferson County Commissioners meet Wednesday, Nov. 25, to discuss guidelines for distributing the money.

"It sounds like we can give out grants to these businesses that are going to be closed down," says Commissioner Wayne Fording. "I hope it will help them weather through this last freeze we're going through."

Fording refers to the two-week freeze Brown imposed on social gatherings and certain businesses. From Nov. 18 through Dec. 2, gyms must close, restaurants must limit service to take-out orders only, and people may gather only in groups of six or less.

"It's bad. It's really bad," says Garry Boyd of Good Earth Cafe & Market, Inc. "I've had to furlough employees. I've gone from half to half again. What are my employees going to do who need to put gas in their vehicle and food on their table?"

Boyd says he's skeptical about money coming from the state. "When we shut down in March, I had to furlough eight employees. Because of that, they doubled my unemployment insurance premiums. There's no trust in government from my perspective."

With this latest relief package, the counties, not the state, distribute the money.

"Now it's our responsibility to get the money out to the community as soon as possible. And we have the ability to do that," says Jefferson County Commission Chair Kelly Simmelink.

Simmelink says while he's grateful for the financial boost to the community, "it doesn't replace people working. If a small business here in town goes under, no amount of money is going to change that."

PAT KRUIS/MADRAS PIONEER - Troy and Garry Boyd, owners of the Great Earth Cafe & Market, Inc., say the COVID closures have hurt their business, yet they're skeptical of government relief.
Director of the Madras-Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce Joe Krenowicz says he's unaware of any local businesses closing since the onset of the pandemic. "These are small business owners who know how to adjust quickly and have high resolve working through challenges. They're hardy people."

"I think the money has the potential of helping as long as there are standards in place to prevent further shut-downs," says Melissa Smith, owner of 3 Peaks Crossfit. "The fitness industry wasn't represented in the groups of people making decisions. We've been working with many gyms in the state to try to get better guidelines established for the gyms." If her gym faces more closures in the future, Smith says any relief money now is only a band-aid.

The state has directed who will be first in line for the relief funds: those in the hospital industry, small businesses, and women, Black, Indigenous, people of color, and tribal-owned businesses. The relief in this package is also available to non-profit organizations that qualify.

"This is a very equitable community," says Krenowicz. "We think there will be enough money to go around."

Once county commissioners get further direction from the state, they hope to define the criteria and begin the application process as early as Dec. 9. County commissioners and staff want to make the process as simple as possible to get money into the hands of businesses as quickly as possible.

Krenowicz encourages anybody and everybody to apply.

Garry Boyd hasn't decided. "There will have to be a guarantee. If everything is transparent, then maybe."


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