While the initial round of One Buncombe money was split between emergency assistance for individuals and low-interest loans to small businesses, the new $500,000 would go entirely toward grants of up to $5,000 for business owners.
The latest executive order from Gov. Roy Cooper raises the indoor mass gathering limit from 25 to 50 people and the outdoor mass gathering limit from 50 to 100. All North Carolina adults will become eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations on Wednesday, April 7.
“Our biggest problem right now is that millions of people want a shot, but we only have hundreds of thousands of doses,” said Gov. Roy Cooper at a Jan. 27 press conference. “There will be a time when everyone can get one, and we want to make sure everyone can access it as quickly as possible.”
While county relief has heretofore been available only in the form of low-interest loans, businesses will now be able to seek grants of $5,000 to hire or rehire employees at a living wage. Staff had previously believed such a grant program to be illegal but had since received updated guidance from the UNC School of Government.
Public comment on a grant application for federal coronavirus relief identified help with rent, mortgage and utility bills as the county’s greatest need. The Board of Commissioners is set to vote on a plan that would direct the aid, which will likely not be available until January, toward that purpose at its regular meeting of Tuesday, Oct. 6.
Nearly 1,050 households have received over $453,000 in emergency assistance from the fund for necessities such as housing, utilities and transportation. And roughly $853,000 has been loaned to 92 area businesses to help them weather the coronavirus’s economic impacts, contributing to the retention of 674 jobs.
Funds supported with tax money from Buncombe County, the city of Asheville and the Tourism Development Authority are being managed by the nonprofit Mountain BizWorks. Because of this arrangement, government and TDA officials say they will play no direct role in determining what area businesses and nonprofits receive public dollars.
Tim Love, Buncombe County’s director of intergovernmental relations, said that roughly 75% of individuals seeking assistance from the One Buncombe Fund had been employed in the hospitality industry. Of those requests, he added, the vast majority were for support to maintain rent or mortgage payments.
The new executive order, effective 5 p.m. on Monday, April 13, limits shoppers to 20% of a store’s permitted fire capacity or five customers per 1,000 square feet. High-volume locations such as checkouts must mark six-foot spaces to ensure social distancing in customer lines, and all stores must conduct “frequent and routine environmental cleaning and disinfection of high-touch areas.”
Educators will ask the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners for nearly $87,000 in additional funding to ensure meals keep flowing during the April 6-10 break. Approximately 12,000 meals are being provided daily to children ages 2-18, helping meet critical nutrition needs for kids whose families are under stress from the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic fallout.
At a March 27 press conference, Gov. Roy Cooper announced a stay-at-home order, effective throughout North Carolina at 5 p.m. Monday, March 30, that will stay in effect until Wednesday, April 29 — nearly three weeks longer than the duration of Buncombe County’s recently enacted mandate.
With nine people present in the echoing City Hall chamber, Council members on March 24 unanimously approved a consent agenda that granted Mayor Esther Manheimer broad emergency powers.
For individuals who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19, the fund could pay for “life-essential needs” such as utilities and mortgages. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees could receive low-interest loans of up to $10,000 to sustain operations until they could reopen or get additional support from the federal government.