Gov. Tim Walz issued a new executive order on Wednesday, Nov. 18, aimed to slow COVID-19's spread throughout Minnesota, but, as cities and businesses begin to look around for financial help, most of the assistance funding has dried up.
The new 4-week order ends dine-in service at bars and restaurants, as well as, closes gyms and fitness centers. Many of those businesses received some financial assistance over the spring and summer from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act. But with congressional leaders unable to pass a new stimulus bill since March, many city officials are pleading for help for their Main Street businesses.
"Businesses have struggled, all spring, they've been closed, and we've had a summer where we weren't up to normal standards for a resort community like we are," said Ron Zeman, alderman for Ward 1 in Detroit Lakes. "They depend upon those four months of summer to carry them through winter, and that was mediocre at best. Now, we're into the fall season, and with them having to close now for four weeks, it's going to be tough."
Zeman said some area businesses had already called his office by Thursday morning asking for help and he feels powerless to help them without assistance from the county, state, or federal government.
Some of the owners he spoke to had mentioned they still haven't been able to pay the second half of their property taxes because they didn't have the money, he said. Becker County gave those businesses an extension through December. Zeman also added that those businesses will need to renew their liquor licenses on top of all of that, but thinks the city might be able to waive some of the license fees because of them being shut down temporarily.
"The question that these owners are having is, is there any more CARES Act money?" said Zeman, "and at this point, there really isn't."
The state has promised $10 million in relief funding for businesses, but, Zeman said, it won't be nearly enough. In the CARES Act passed in March, Becker County received about $4.2 million in federal funds, $1 million of which went to small businesses through an assistance grant program.
"I just wish that we had some ways of helping them more than we are, but right now, we as a city don't have those types of funds available that they need," said Zeman. "Unless they get another CARES Act passed federally . . . it's gonna be hard, tough times for these businesses."
At the Detroit Lakes Community and Cultural Center, a nonprofit organization that leases its facility from the city, the doors will be locked beginning on Saturday, Nov. 21, after the annual Holmes Art Show and won't be opened again until the new restrictions are lifted.
"We're worried about our members and our employees in the weeks ahead," said Peter Jacobson, CEO of the DLCCC. "We're still looking for ways of how we can serve our community during this time with the resources that we have."
The DLCCC will try to shift their art and fitness classes to an online format in order to remain engaged with the community. Jacobson said to look for their streams on the center's website or their Facebook page.
Jacobson also said some donors have already reached out to the DLCCC and provided donations Thursday, which the organization greatly appreciates. Other members have made to sure to pay their continuing membership fees, something the DLCCC is not requiring of its members during the shutdown.
"We're going to need support, but, yes, we will be here for the long term," said Jacobson. "We're committed to our organization being here. I consider this to be one of the signature amenities of Detroit Lakes and it's one of the things that makes Detroit Lakes a great place to live and visit."
On Thursday, Walz addressed a letter to the majority and minority leaders in Congress. In part, the letter read:
"To date, Minnesota has used CARES Act funding wisely, including to create a robust testing program that is free, accessible to all, and yields quick results; these operations will be key to keep people safe and healthy, and keep the economy going. We have also used our CARES Act funds to procure Personal Protective Equipment, support childcare providers, small businesses, and our education system. Further, economic assistance from the federal government has been critical for workers, families, and small businesses to stay afloat, whether through supplementing state unemployment insurance programs, or through the Paycheck Protection Program which helped thousands of small businesses subsist through the early months of the pandemic.
More federal funding for all of these priorities is badly needed. And needed soon."