Placer County Grant Program Provides Pandemic Lifeline
With a willingness to make a difference, Placer County prioritized helping its small businesses and nonprofits make it through the pandemic. Through sharing emergency federal funding and partnering with nonprofit and private sectors, Placer was able to respond quickly to emerging needs.
As COVID-19 cases began to explode regionally, nationally and globally in early 2020, many California counties began to shutter businesses and encourage the limitation of operations not deemed “essential.” Businesses shut their doors with the intent they could reopen soon. “Give it two weeks, help ‘flatten the curve,’” we were all told.
As we all know, those initial two weeks have turned into a year of limiting business operations to some extent within nearly every sector in California. The ebb and flow of reopenings and state-mandated closings has resulted in tremendous loss of revenue for what no business could have prepared.
When the federal government announced the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act with funding for local governments, Placer County was quick to share funding with the community to help sustain the local economy.
In July 2020, the Placer County Board of Supervisors voted and approved a grant assistance program, Placer Shares, to aid the most impacted small businesses and nonprofit organizations. For the remainder of 2020, Placer allocated and distributed over $16 million of the county’s CARES funding directly into the community.
“The intent was to take these federal CARES dollars and shore up our local business and nonprofit community during these challenging times,” said Placer County 2020 Board Chair Bonnie Gore. “Our businesses have really suffered. When businesses suffer and employees don’t have jobs, there’s a drain on our social safety net services.”
Placer used this opportunity to partner with community organizations and nonprofits to help identify the best use of funds. To quickly and efficiently deploy funding and resources into the community, the county partnered with Sierra Business Council to process grant applications and coordinate with Placer Community Foundation and Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation to help identify critical needs within the nonprofit community, such as food insecurity, housing/rental assistance and mental health/counseling services.
“So many communities have seen a lot of politics around how these dollars are deployed,” said Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation Executive Director Stacy Caldwell. “Placer has not only shared these resources but convened a group of trusted partners to strategically deploy funding into the communities in effective ways.”
COVID-19 greatly worsened an already scarce housing situation in Placer County. Due to mass employment loss, many community members were not able to pay the high cost of rent. “We began to see that people were relocating to more affordable areas. This threatened the community and culture that makes our region so special,” said Kristy Oriol with Sierra Community House. “Funds from the Placer Shares Impact Grant allowed Sierra Community House to support these community members to stay safe, sheltered, and in our community. This is an enormous benefit to those we serve and our community at large.”
Partners assisted the county in developing the grant program’s eligibility criteria, managing application submissions and routing funds to grant recipients. Additionally, the county developed a committee with representation from county cities and chambers to help further identify community needs.
“This has been transformational for many businesses and helped everyone from a sole proprietor with a one-chair beauty salon up to a 200-seat restaurant through Placer Shares,” said Kristin York of Sierra Business Council. “The money came right in time to make that rent payment or a couple, keep people on payroll, or buy inventory. It’s been a spectacular program and life-saver for many.”
When the Sierra College campus closed in March 2020, student hardship was significant. Job loss, lack of technology access, isolation, and more resulted in record calls for help to campus crisis services. The Placer Shares Impact Grant given to Sierra College Foundation helps assist Sierra College students who are struggling due to COVID achieve their educational goals. A recent student recipient shared, “If it weren’t for all the assistance that is offered at this awesome school by the caring members of the staff, I don’t think I’d be able to hang in there and finish my college career to earn that degree that is so important to my livelihood. Thank you so much!”
Placer County distributed grants to more than 1,700 businesses and nonprofits last year and distributed over 40 percent of its CARES funds through the Placer Shares program, the highest percentage of any other county in California. Learn more at placer.ca.gov/shares.