County officials say applications for the state-funded local relief effort are arriving at a steady rate. (The Enterprise/Rachel Parsons)

VALE – Malheur County received more than 35 applications seeking $900,000 just days after opening the way for a Covid relief program that began Dec. 8.

The applications had been filed as of Monday and the deadline for businesses to get in line is Dec. 23.

The relief program, funded with $768,183 in state money, is geared to help businesses in the hospitality industry, merchants impacted by the recent Covid freezes and small businesses along with women, black, indigenous, people of color and tribal-owned firms.

The county said there are 150 eligible businesses just in the hospitality industry in the county. The restaurant industry took another economic hit when state officials again stopped indoor dining.

The relief is scheduled to be dispensed in the form of a grant, with the amount based on a businesses’ number of full-time employees and may include up to $5,000 per worker.

The large number of applications is a symbol of how hard the Covid epidemic has been on county businesses, said Dan Joyce, Malheur County judge.

“We’ve had a ton of inquiries so thank God it is here,” said Joyce.

Joyce said that the state money “isn’t enough.”

“All people really want to do is go back to work. When you are not allowed to work that creates a problem,” said Joyce.

County officials said so far there have been no major issues with applications.

To qualify for the program, a business must be based in Malheur County and, according to the county, “demonstrate a one-month decline in sales of 25% or more, incurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, between March 1, 2020 and November 30, 2020, as compared against the same period of time in 2019.”

If a business doesn’t want to document its 25% decline in sales, it can list expenditures incurred because of Covid.

To qualify a business can’t employ more than 100 full-time workers.

Businesses can get the application by going online to www.malheurco.org and email their forms to [email protected]

Completed applications can be mailed to Malheur County Court, 251 B St. W. Vale Oregon, 97918 or put in the secure drop box outside the courthouse.

County officials said they intend to distribute the money no later than the first week in January 2021.

“I hope and pray we get out of this. The sooner we get opened up, the bigger news it will be,” said Joyce.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

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