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Work to disburse business relief grants begins

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Michael Espiritu, president of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp., at a December meeting. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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City and county leaders, as well as the head of a local economic development group, have started work to disburse more than $1.68 million in relief grants to local businesses.

Michael Espiritu, president of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp., said Thursday during a Chaves County Board of Commissioners meeting that he and his staff, city and county staff, and state employees talked Wednesday to discuss how they will get the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Small Business Continuity Grants to local businesses.

He said about 115 businesses in Roswell, Dexter and Hagerman already submitted grant requests in August. The business grants have been made available through cities and counties that applied for federal CARES funding allocated to the state of New Mexico.

The state received about $1.04 billion in federal relief funds from the CARES Act passed in March, and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced July 27 that $28 million would be made available to tribal governments and $150 million to local governments, with $50 million of the local allotment designated for small business continuity grants.

On Sept. 1, the state announced its funding decisions, including that the city of Roswell would receive $1,351,000 for small business grants, while Chaves County would get $337,500.

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The county amount is still under discussion. County officials said they had applied for $1 million, all of which was intended for small businesses, but the state notified the county that it was getting the $337,500 small business allocation as well as $537,500 to reimburse the county itself for any COVID-related losses or expenses.

The city of Roswell had requested $12.7 million for the local government and businesses. It received $5,556,250 for government losses and expenses, in addition to the $1,351,000 for small business grants.

Chaves County Manager Stanton Riggs and Public Services Director Bill Williams said they have talked with the state about using all of the county money for business grants. Although they have had some COVID-related expenses and losses, they said they did not intend to get state funding to cover them and are not sure that they have half a million dollars worth of qualifying expenditures or losses.

“It is unfair to businesses that they are the ones who are suffering,” said Williams. “We want to make sure that we can help them to offset any costs they have had and we want to do all that we can to get them to apply.”

Espiritu said he and his staff are talking with businesses that already applied to obtain the documentation required by the state. It will then forward that information to the county and to the city for those entities to make decisions about funding.

He also said the EDC plans to publicize for additional businesses to apply.

“We anticipate to use all those funds to help business people to capture the loss they had during the pandemic,” Espiritu said.

According to information from the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration, qualifying businesses are those with less than $2 million in annual revenues and 50 or fewer New Mexico employees. The funds can be used to cover normal business expenses needed to operate, or to pay for technology, personal protective equipment, or barriers or new construction needed to function during COVID-related restrictions.

“It is a big project and it is important,” he said. “There have been many businesses in Chaves County that have been extremely challenged, and some have gone out of business.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.