Over 40 Lebanon County restaurants and hotels have applied for financial relief via the $1.6 million COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program (CHIRP) initiative, county commissioners learned Thursday.

Read More: Hospitality industry gets a helping hand: $1.6 million to aid businesses via CHIRP

Susan Eberly, President, Lebanon Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) told the commissioners that the funding requests from 43 businesses totals $1.7 million, which exceeds the approximate $1.65 million available to area hospitality-based businesses adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are currently reviewing and scoring the applications and will present to the loan community next Wednesday,” Eberly said after noting that about one-third of the applications have been fully reviewed as of April 1.

Eberly said nearly all funding requests were at the maximum limit of $50,000 per business. Since the requests exceed available funds, discussion focused on how LVEDC and the loan committee would determine disbursement to those that meet funding criteria requirements.

After Eberly said that’s a conversation she will have with her staff later in the day, she added that other local economic development partners have already closed the application window in their regions due to overwhelming demand. The application deadline is June 15 or whenever all funds have been expended, whichever comes first.

Commissioner Chairman Robert Phillips asked Eberly whether there would be an opportunity to prorate payments across all eligible applicants – even if they do not receive the full amount they requested.

“I believe we did that in the second round with the CARES money,” Phillips said. “I don’t know if applications have tailed off and what you currently have is at the end of the applications you will receive.”

Eberly said applications have tailed off after being bombarded on March 15, which was the date funding requests began to be accepted. Since that initial rush in the days that followed, LVEDC now receives about one new CHIRP application per day, according to Eberly.

“The majority of applications came within the first two weeks,” Eberly said. “Until we make a determination (of how to dispense the money), we can’t put out the money if we are going to do it on a prorated basis.”

Phillips responded that he realizes running a prorated program would cause funding disbursement to be delayed, adding “that is the downside to doing it that way.”

Jamie Wolgemuth, Chief Clerk/County Administrator, recommended that LVEDC, who is administering the CHIRP program in Lebanon County, keep the application window open since funding could be available through the recently passed American Rescue Plan Act.

“I would recommend that you continue to accept applications since we don’t know how the American Rescue Act monies are going to be disbursed,” Wolgemuth said. “Since we are still waiting to receive guidelines for that program, there may come a time when we can fall back on that (funding).”

Based on a review of financial records from those who applied for CHIRP funding, Eberly said that the mandatory shutdown was the one business quarter that financially slammed the local hospitality industry the hardest.

“A lot of restaurants and hotels were doing great pre-COVID until there was that mandatory quarter that shut them down,” Eberly said. “But after that, they demonstrated resilience: Most had bounced back in the third quarter. I think that speaks well of their businesses and the people of Lebanon County who have supported them.”

Eve Beamesderfer, LVEDC Business Specialist, said all 43 applications have been reviewed for completeness and questions directed to those business owners where additional information was needed.

Beamesderfer said the vetting process included identification of each company’s business expenses from March 1, 2020 through March 15, 2021, what relief funding a business may have already received, what expenses that funding covered, and what uncovered expenses they are requesting CHIRP to reimburse.

In other coronavirus-related news, the commissioners learned that WellSpan Health began vaccine operations on Thursday at the county-sponsored mass vaccination site, which is located in the former K-Mart building in North Cornwall Township.

Wolgemuth said the site is running smoothly and when asked by LebTown if other providers may come online at that location, he added that the county would “certainly welcome them and has plenty of space for additional providers to administer vaccinations.”

“The decision to have the old K-Mart site be the location was a good one,” Wolgemuth said. “People don’t seem to have a problem finding it and our DES (Department of Emergency Services) staff is doing a great job running the site. We have plenty of space if other providers want to use the site. The two providers there are comfortably spread out over one-quarter of the available space.”

Phillips gave kudos to the DES staff since he believes Lebanon County’s Vaccination Center was the second to officially open in Pennsylvania.

“We were the second county in the state to have a center that was up and running,” Phillip said. “Considering the size of our county and the resources that we have available, you have to give credit to Bob (Dowd, Director, Lebanon County Emergency Services), Jamie and Bob’s staff for the work they did to make this happen.”

In other county business, the commissioners read a proclamation announcing April as Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Erin Moyer, Administrator, Children and Youth, said her agency is planning a number of activities around the county throughout the month of April, including the dedication on Thursday of four pinwheel gardens at four different locations around the county.

Her department dedicated the four gardens at the courthouse in Lebanon city, the square in Palmyra and at the Annville and Myerstown libraries.The ceremonies were held in one-hour intervals and were live streamed by the local United Way.

Moyer told the commissioners that everyone has a role in helping to prevent child abuse and encouraged county residents to call the child abuse hotline at 800-932-0313 if they suspect a child is being abused.

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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...