Bars, restaurants, retail stores, hair or nail salons and other personal service small businesses that are financially struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic could soon apply for a two-month commercial rent relief.

Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero's formal approval of a $5 million funding is now the only other action that's pending, after the Guam Economic Development Authority on Tuesday approved the program's standard operating procedures.

The amount of assistance is equivalent to two months' worth of past-due rental or $20,000, "whichever one is lesser," GEDA Administrator Melanie Mendiola said.

Once the governor approves the funding, GEDA can start opening the application process.

Some 500 small businesses may be helped with this program, she said.

Among other things, applicants must be able to show that they have been behind in rent for at least two months.

Those who already received aid from GEDA under its Small Business Pandemic Assistance grant can still apply for the rental relief grant program.

Outside of bars, restaurants and retail stores, small businesses that fall under the "personal service" category include hair salons, nail salons, massage therapies, animal grooming service and the like.

Small businesses that are able to conduct business from their homes or via remote work do not qualify such as law firms and accounting firms.

Funding expires in December

With some $56 million in coronavirus direct relief funding still available as of October, the governor had said the amount will be used before the program expires on Dec. 31.

GEDA Board Chairman David John, in a special board meeting Tuesday afternoon, said the Rental Relief Grant Program is a "very ingenious" way of providing relief to commercial landlords and small businesses that have been behind in rental payment.

Bars, for example, have been ordered to close since March, except for a few weeks with 50% capacity, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Restaurants and other businesses remain on limited operations, nine months into the pandemic.

This is the first rental relief program of its kind since the pandemic reached Guam shores, and led to temporary and permanent businesses closures and the displacement of 30,000-plus workers.

If an eligible small business is past due on a $5,000 a month commercial rental, then it can receive a $10,000 assistance to pay the rent which is equivalent to two months rental.

If a business has a monthly rental of $12,000, then it can receive $20,000 assistance, and not $24,000, since the cap is $20,000.

Mendiola, in responding to GEDA board members' questions, said the check for an approved grant application "will be given to both tenant and landlord to sign off."

This ensures the money goes to the landlord which was owed the rent.

All the GEDA board members present at Tuesday's meeting voted in favor of the rent relief program's standard operating procedures.

It will be in effect upon the governor's approval and allocation of funds to the program, until Dec. 31, 2020, unless the governor extends it via a subsequent executive order.

20 clinics seek help

Mendiola also gave the GEDA board an update on two other pandemic relief grant programs.

To date, 20 healthcare facilities, including behavioral and mental healthcare clinics and other medical providers, have turned in their application for the Healthcare System Stabilization Grant Program, Mendiola said.

This program awards up to $50,000 for tier 1 facilities.

There's still no maximum grant award set for tier 2 clinics such as TakeCare/FHP, American Medical Center, and Seventh-Day Adventist Guam Clinic, Mendiola said.

$16.6M for small businesses

As of Tuesday, $16.6 million has been processed and awarded to 2,313 small businesses under GEDA's Guam Small Business Pandemic Assistance Grant Program, Mendiola said.

A total of 2,675 applications have been received, and 302 were deemed ineligible, she said.

There are still other applications being processed.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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