WORTHINGTON — A COVID-19 Relief grant program launched by Nobles County to help businesses and the not-for-profit sector hit hard by the pandemic has generated more than 150 applications.

The Minnesota Legislature awarded $433,000 to Nobles County for the program with the request that counties focus the dollars on those who truly need it. Approximately $10,000 was spent on marketing the program.

“They told us not to take the applications and divide the money (equally),” said Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson.

That’s why the application used this time asked business owners to tell their story, he explained.

“The legislature … wanted to try to catch ones that didn’t apply the first time, but qualified,” Johnson said. “Some people can get through one downturn, but two closures in a year is pretty hard.”

Newsletter signup for email alerts

The applicants in this round will be prioritized by their economic impact and whether they’ve received previous federal and state aid.

“The legislature talked a lot about the hospitality industry because they’ve been the most affected,” Johnson noted.

Next week, a subcommittee comprised of Johnson and Deputy Nobles County Administrator Bruce Heitkamp will join county commissioners Don Linssen and Justin Ahlers in sorting through the stack of applications. Plans are to have the full board evaluate the applications during a Feb. 24 work session, Johnson noted.

“I’m excited that we’re going to be able to get more money out into the community,” he said. “It is going to be a challenge to decide how much and to who.”

All of the funds will need to be sent out by March 15, which gives commissioners time to evaluate the applications. Businesses were not asked how much they needed, but to rather tell their story and why they need the money.

Of the applications received, Johnson figured about 80% were from Worthington businesses, which was to be expected as the largest city with considerably more businesses than other communities in the county.

“We’ve been pushing out information as much as we can, making sure everyone who should apply does,” Johnson said.