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Bay County Small Businesses Seek COVID Relief Money As Grant Application Period Opens

empty tables and chairs in a room with no people
Valerie Crowder
The Osprey Driftwood Lodge was empty in late-March when the sandy shoreline in Panama City Beach was closed and interstate travel restrictions were in place.

Bay County’s restaurant, shop and hotel owners are wasting no time trying to recoup pandemic-related costs.

Eighty small business owners and nonprofits submitted applications for coronavirus relief grants in less than 24 hours after an online portalopened at noon on Wednesday, said Philip "Griff" Griffitts, chairman of the Board of County Commissioners.

“Hospitality took a big hit,” Griffitts said. “The hotels were essentially shut down when all travel was shut down.”

Griffitts says increased tourism over the summer helped these hospitality businesses stay afloat, but many are still burdened with pandemic-related costs, such as having to purchase extra masks, shields, gloves and cleaning services. “Those are the expenses that we think are easily reimbursable.”

Roughly $5 million in federal CARES Act money is available to qualifying small businesses and nonprofit organizations in the form of individual grants of up to $25,000. “We want to get it into the hands of the community where it’s really serving its purpose,” Griffitts said.

The deadline for businesses to apply is Dec. 11.

The county has hiredIntegrity Group, a public accountability consultant, to oversee the process, Griffitts said. Tim Moore, former commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, is one of the firm’s senior partners. He wrote in a recent press release that the firm is helping counties throughout the Panhandle disburse coronavirus relief aid quickly, lawfully and responsibly.

Moore wrote: “We will work hard to get this money delivered to those who need it fast, but applicants will have to provide sufficient documentation and demonstrable losses and expenses.”

Update: A previous version of this story misspelled Bay County Commissioner Philip "Griff" Griffitts's last name.

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.