The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has approved a grant program to help small businesses and nonprofits recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, but hotels will be awarded grants before anyone else.

The Pivot Business Recovery Grant program is being funded through the American Rescue Plan, passed by Congress in March, will allocate $25 million to businesses in the county that experienced the highest amount of job losses since 2020, including lodging, food services, retail, arts, entertainment, museums and historical sites. The grant program also targets sectors that employ disproportionately higher numbers of low income and minority workers.

“Fairfax County is committed to helping businesses recover from the effects of the pandemic,” Board of Supervisors Chair Jeffrey C. McKay said in a news release. “Through the PIVOT grant we will help those businesses who saw the greatest financial impact regain their momentum so they will be able to thrive in the reopening marketplace.”

In early 2021, the county and the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority commissioned an Economic Recovery Framework study that showed that the county lost an estimated 48,200 jobs (through December 2020) and employment losses were heavily concentrated in food service, hospitality and retail sectors. 

The background provided to the supervisors before Tuesday's vote of approval notes that Northern Virginia’s lodging industry has been struggling in comparison to the rest of the state, losing more than $2.2 billion in revenue. For this reason, the Board of Supervisors stipulated that hotels will be the first in line for a grant, up to $400 per room. 

Hotels are eligible to apply for a Pivot grant only if they did not already receive money from the county through the Fairfax County Emergency Shelter program, which paid hotels to house people with COVID-19 or who were homeless. 

Wendy Lemieux, marketing coordinator for the county's Department of Economic Initiatives, said the county contracted with seven hotels to provide shelter, and the average total payment to each hotel was $1.7 million. 

A county spokesperson said plenty of money should be left for other businesses. If more applicants apply than funding permits, a lottery will be held to select eligible businesses.

The grant application web site will be open from June 23 through July 9. Businesses eligible to apply will include food service, retail, services and amusement, arts organizations, museums, historical sites and lodging. 

Grants range from $1,500 to $18,000 per business location, depending on the type of business and its annual revenue.

The board left open the option to increase the funding for the program at any time and the Economic Development Authority is required to update the board on the progress of the program no later than 45 days after its establishment. 

The grant program comes after the county launched a RISE grant program, which allocated $52.5 million in grants from the CARES Act, the first COVID relief bill passed in April 2020. Of the 4,804 applicants for those grants, 72% were from women-, minority- or veteran-owned businesses. 

“Throughout the pandemic we have been working with our local businesses to get them the support they need, not to just survive the pandemic, but to thrive beyond it,” McKay said. “I am proud of all we have been able to do and look forward to more efforts to lift up our residents during the recovery process.”

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