The Hennepin County Board unanimously approved $30 million in funding Tuesday for emergency rental housing assistance and small business relief in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The money is part of a $220 million aid package that Hennepin County received from the federal government to help cover COVID-19 costs.
County officials said the housing funds could help as many as 9,000 residents. The business funding would assist nearly 1,400 small companies.
Hennepin County also will create a COVID-19 testing and technical assistance program for long-term care facilities. There have been 241 deaths in such facilities due to the coronavirus, accounting for 84% of all COVID deaths in the county.
"The long-term care facilities are the epicenter of the crisis," said Commissioner Mike Opat. "This is a call to action."
According to County Administrator David Hough, deaths in Hennepin County have risen from 126 on April 20 to 284 as of Tuesday. Hennepin County's death rate is now outpacing comparable places such as Milwaukee County, Wis., and King County, Wash., where Seattle is located.
Hennepin County so far has spent $5.3 million on COVID-19, much of it going to shelter in hotels homeless people who needed testing or isolation. The county has housed 374 homeless people and may use federal money to further fund the program.
Though the board didn't put a price tag on it, some of the federal money will be used for the long-term facility testing program. Opat said the county doesn't play a formal role in its 325 nursing and assisted-care facilities, so it's offering to help with testing and technical advice in partnership with Hennepin Healthcare and other facilities.
Commissioner Jan Callison asked if the county might consider also using hotels to house long-term facility residents with COVID-19 concerns. Hough said some federal money might be used.
The board earmarked $15 million in federal funding to help low-income residents needing help paying rent. More than 34,000 county residents currently pay more than half their income to rent.
The program will provide an average of $1,500 per family and is expected to assist 9,000 households, which can apply more than once. Applicants must prove the coronavirus has hurt their ability to pay rent. Program officials hope to work with renters for 1 to 3 months and reach out to disadvantaged communities.
The board also approved $15 million to assist self-employed and small business owners. The funding will provide up to $3,000 for self-employed business owners and as much as $10,000 for businesses with up to 20 employees. Businesses may use the money to buy equipment and what they need to reopen.
Commissioner Jeff Johnson called the funding "really crucial." More than 127,000 residents have applied for unemployment, which is 17% of the county's labor pool.
In other actions, the board created a business advisory council and approved assessment of remote digital learning needs for youth under county jurisdiction.