The hospitality industry has been one of the hardest hit financially by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of Monday, Lebanon County businesses whose North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) designation code is 72, which includes accommodations and food services, are eligible to apply for funding relief under the COVID-19 Hospitality Relief Program (CHIRP).

Lebanon Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) officials held a public meeting Monday via Zoom to highlight the program guidelines and to entertain questions from business owners. LVEDC plans to post soon the program guidelines on their website for company officials interested in applying for a CHIRP grant.

As the county’s designated economic development organization, LVEDC will oversee disbursing the more than $1.6 million eligible to Lebanon County as part of the $145 million the commonwealth received from the federal government as part of the CHIRP initiative. (Funding allocation for all of the state’s 67 counties is based on population size.)

“The program will begin on March 15 and ends on June 15, or sooner if all the funds have been expended,” said Susan Eberly, president and CEO, LVEDC. “Grant awards will be available for revenue losses in increments of $5,000 and a maximum grant of up to $50,000.”

Eve Beamesderfer, Administrative Assistant, LVEDC, noted eligibility requirements, including how much revenue a business must have lost in a given quarter to receive funding.

“A business has to be able show a loss of at least 25 percent reduction in one of the quarters in 2020 versus 2019,” Beamesderfer said. ”And knowing that different businesses are structured — or may have been in business at different times — there are some guidelines they will have to follow, and we will reference, in order to conclude that they had a 25 percent loss.”

Other important eligibility requirements include the size of a business (no more than 300 employees); a maximum tangible net worth of no more than $15 million; was in business as of Feb. 15, 2020 and is still in business and doesn’t plan to permanently cease operations within one year of the date of application; is located in Lebanon County; and must have filed 2019 taxes — unless the business opened between January 1 and February 15 of 2020. Additionally, a business must be up-to-date on payment of all federal, state and local hotel occupancy and local real estate taxes, Beamesderfer added.

If those requirements are met, then the applications that are received will be prioritized based on three factors: prior receipt of other federal funding during the pandemic; businesses that were subject to closure via the governor’s emergency disaster declaration; and those that sustained a reduction in gross receipts of 50 percent or more for the period beginning after March 31, 2020 through Dec. 31, 2020, in comparison to the same period the previous year.

“As these applications come in, we are going to take all the details into consideration and they will be scored based on where they receive priority,” Beamesderfer said. “That being said, it is a rolling fund program, so we will be taking into consideration and documenting each time an application comes in and it will be reviewed in that timeline and prioritized in that fashion.”

Eberly clarified that hospitality-based businesses can apply for funding — even if they have received previous federal funding during the pandemic. Beamesderfer agreed with Eberly and provided further explanation of what that entails.

“The funding can not go towards anything that has already been paid for by another program,” Beamesderfer said. “You may have utilized another program and have received funding but you can’t apply for those expenses again. They have to be for different expenses.”

Beamesderfer noted applications will be accepted beginning March 15 via a still-to-be-determined website. Interested parties should visit the LVEDC website to obtain the application URL.

She emphasized that funding for this program is not guaranteed to any business — especially once the grants have been awarded.

“As I said, we will continue to accept them, keep track of when they roll in, and review them for completeness,” Beamesderfer said. “As we receive them, they will be designated as complete or incomplete and we will reach out to applicants to let them know what we still need if theirs is incomplete. This [program] is first-come, first-served and [funding] could be exhausted at any time. Even though we receive the application, funding is not guaranteed.”

Applications will be accepted through June 15 if any funding remains at that time, added Beamesderfer, and she also informed call participants that LVEDC staff is not permitted to assist business owners in completing their applications.

Since some questions did revolve around eligibility — particularly concerning non-72 designations that still may serve food or beverages business owners were recommended to consult their accountant or other tax professionals for any questions they may have about their eligibility or if they have questions about the application process.

Additional information about CHIRP is available via the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s CHIRP page on their website, where contact information for the department is also available for applicants who may have questions about the program.

On a fact sheet for Lebanon County from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, 23.5 percent of all businesses are in the leisure and hospitality industry as calculated by the state. However, the statistics do not distinguish between how many businesses are leisure-based versus the hospitality sector.

In sharing that information with LebTown, Eberly wrote in an email that she hopes that all businesses that can apply for CHIRP will take the time to do so.

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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...