Businesses and nonprofits in Anoka County that didn't qualify for federal COVID-19 relief earlier this year have a new opportunity to get a piece of a $7 million pie.

The County Board voted at an emergency meeting Tuesday to expand eligibility criteria for distributing state dollars to businesses struggling during the pandemic. Performing artists who can prove bookings were canceled due to the pandemic are now eligible, as well as local chambers of commerce and newer businesses.

Board Chairman Scott Schulte said there is more freedom with this new round of state funding, and county officials will give priority to businesses and nonprofits that haven't yet received relief grants.

"I wanted to make sure we were more inclusive in this round of criteria," he said.

When the county was doling out $6 million in federal CARES Act money earlier this year, strict criteria required applicants to be in operation six months before March 1, so newly opened bars and restaurants were left out.

The Minnesota Legislature passed a relief package Dec. 14 that included $112 million for county governments to distribute to local small businesses and nonprofits impacted by Gov. Tim Walz's most recent executive order, which limited service at bars, restaurants and entertainment venues.

In addition to relief grants, the County Board on Tuesday unanimously approved waiving business renewal license fees for lodging, food and beverage establishments until March 31. Schulte said these fees generate about $575,000 in annual revenue for the county, but he recognized a reprieve will make a difference for businesses.

Commissioner Julie Braastad said she is getting multiple calls a day from struggling business owners.

"I've actually had to make some mental health referrals because there's been some pretty significant situations," she said. "The sooner we can get the money out, the better."

Applications will open in January and will be reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis. Funds must be distributed by March 15.

Final grant decisions will be made by an application review panel, with awards ranging from $10,000 to $45,000, based on criteria including number of employees and the financial impact of COVID-19 on the business.

More details are available at

Kim Hyatt • 612-673-4751