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Small businesses with five or fewer employees will be first in line for Ramsey County’s emergency assistance grants aimed at helping businesses adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The county on Wednesday began accepting applications for its Small Business Relief Fund. Using federal COVID aid, the county will award grants of $7,500 each to 670 microenterprises, defined as businesses with five or fewer employees.

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Those businesses will get the first chance at $5 million of the $15 million in federal aid the county has earmarked for small business assistance.

“We know that $7,500 isn’t a whole lot, but it’s intended to get these businesses through the next month or two in terms of rent and utilities until the Walz administration continues to move that dial,” said Community and Economic Development Director Kari Collins.

About half of Ramsey County’s businesses employ five or fewer people and “are the most vulnerable to economic flux,” she said. They also were largely muscled out of federal aid programs, she said.

“They were not even able to get their applications out the door in time,” she said. “This [Ramsey County] fund is targeting the business owners who were not able to receive funding elsewhere.”

The application period runs through June 5. The county will award grants only after applications are closed; a panic was created when federal small business funds were awarded while the application process was still open, Collins said.

Businesses that have received help from other aid programs will not be eligible, she said. The application is online at RamseyCountyMeansBusiness.com/relief-fund.

The county chose to award grants for $7,500, the same as those awarded by St. Paul’s Bridge Fund. More than 2,100 businesses applied for 300 Bridge Fund grants awarded earlier this spring.

The county will award the remaining $10 million to small businesses later this year. Businesses with 20 employees or fewer likely will be eligible in future rounds, Collins said. The county is working with more than a dozen community agencies to ensure that minority- and women-owned businesses are made aware of the grants.

The small business aid comes from the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act signed by President Donald Trump in March. Minnesota received $2.2 billion, which must be spent by year’s end. The state government received the bulk of the funding, $1.87 billion, with Hennepin County getting $212 million and Ramsey $96 million.

Shannon Prather • 651-925-5037