DULUTH – The St. Louis County Board on Tuesday approved a plan to allocate $24.5 million in federal aid to address COVID-19 financial hardships.

Commissioners voted to distribute $6 million of the relief money to assist small businesses and $6 million to organizations supporting those disproportionately affected by the pandemic, like nursing homes, mental health programs and housing services.

"Our business composition relies most heavily on small business, and it is critical that relief efforts reach as many of our small and minority-owned business enterprises as possible," the board's agenda said.

In March, Congress passed the CARES Act — short for Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security — sending direct aid to states and municipalities with more than 500,000 residents. Gov. Tim Walz announced a plan in late June to dole out $841 million of Minnesota's $1.87 billion in relief to other local governments.

St. Louis County will use $10 million to cover its own virus-related costs — such as extra staffing, personal protective equipment and technology needs — and will keep $1 million in reserves.

The board also voted to allocate $1.2 million to assist the logging industry, which has suffered since the closing of Duluth's Verso paper mill, a major purchaser of timber.

Groups looking to apply for assistance should go to the county's website next week for more information. Businesses with 25 employees or fewer may apply for up to $1,000 per employee to cover COVID-related expenses, and those with 100 employees or fewer can seek up to $50,000.