MERCER – Mercer County officials are poised to distribute millions of dollars in COVID-19 relief money to area businesses.

The county received a one-time grant of $9,881,956.45 under the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act that must be used to address the economic impacts of COVID-19. If the money is not disbursed by Nov. 30, the state can reclaim it and allocate it to other counties.

CARES Act funds can be used for direct COVID-19 response, assisting businesses and municipalities, providing behavioral health and substance-use disorder services, funding nonprofit assistance programs or improving broadband internet coverage to unserved or underserved areas.

Organizations and businesses that need assistance can apply for grants through the county’s website.

At their meeting Thursday, commissioners unanimously passed approved 132 grants in the small business and tourism categories for $993,500. The county will begin disbursing the checks next week.

Commissioner Matt McConnell said the commissioners are united in a desire to assist Mercer County’s business community.

“A lot of counties are not doing business grants,” McConnell said. “The commissioners looked at each other and said, ‘We have to try and help the businesses of the county.’ We’re trying to do the best that we can to get those out. There are a lot of businesses that could not survive without it.”

The county can use grants to reimburse public and private entities for costs related to COVID-19. That includes costs for personal protective equipment and sanitizing equipment. Businesses can also be reimbursed for fixed costs such as rent, mortgage and utilities.

County officials have received grant applications from schools and non-profit agencies. The commissioners said they are evaluating those requests.

The business grant requests have totaled $12.2 million, significantly more than the amount Mercer County has available.

“There’s obviously not enough to meet everyone’s needs or requests,” county Fiscal Administrator John Logan said.

But Logan and McConnell still encouraged small businesses to continue applying for the grants.

“This is rolling,” McConnell said. “Do not wait until the last moment. We want to make sure they have an opportunity before it’s gone. I apologize to anybody that comes too late.”

Commissioners have spent nearly $2 million of the COVID relief money so far. McConnell said there is still about $7.5 million left.

“We have a certain amount earmarked,” he said. “We’re seeing where the demand falls first.”

Commissioners have previously approved spending $5,222 to make and install plexiglass panels and mountings for the shields at the judge and witness benches and attorney tables at the courthouse’s four courtrooms, and $4,500 to buy 10,000 masks for the county and 5,000 for the county jail.

They also approved $35,780 to run public service announcements, promoting a mental-health hotline, on local television stations from October through December.

The federal money can be used to cover pandemic-related expenses incurred between March 1 and Dec. 30.

APPLICANTS FOR small business grants through the COVID-19 County Relief Block Grants can contact the commissioners at the Mercer County Courthouse, or file an application online at www.mcc.co.mercer.pa.us/cares-act-funding

Follow Melissa Klaric on Twitter and Facebook @HeraldKlaric, email: mklaric@sharonherald.com.