Program to aid rural families and businesses nears launch

Rural Hidalgo County families and business owners will soon be able to apply for economic relief for hardships caused by COVID-19, county officials announced Tuesday.

Hidalgo County Commissioners approved a program Tuesday that will help 4,000 households pay for up to two months of rent or mortgage, and invested $3.5 million to create the Hidalgo County CARES Small Business Grant Program, which offers $5,000 grants to businesses that were previously forced to close under emergency orders from the county.

The programs are being funded as part of the $151 million the county received earlier this year in federal relief monies.

Neither of the programs have launched yet, but officials hope to kick off the rent and mortgage assistance program July 6, according to Jaime Longoria, executive director for the Hidalgo County Community Service Agency.

“Only families living in rural areas of the county, Granjeno, and Sullivan City that were affected by COVID-19 can qualify for assistance,” Longoria said Tuesday.

Applicants will need to provide proof their working hours were reduced because of COVID-19’s impact on the local economy beginning after March 13. Those qualifying families will be awarded two months of assistance, but the payments will be made directly to either landlords or mortgage companies.

The small business grant program does not have a launch date yet, but officials are confident help is just around the corner.

“This is an emerging opportunity to help the business community recuperate from the financial challenges many have experienced during these unprecedented times,” Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez said Tuesday. “This program was designed to offer financial aid to our small business community that took a hard hit during the economic crisis many experienced due to this pandemic.”

More than 1,000 small business grants will be disbursed to businesses with an annual net income of $100,000 or less, officials indicated in a news release Tuesday. Eligible businesses must be located in the unincorporated area of Hidalgo County and must demonstrate that they have experienced an income loss of at least 15% due to COVID-19 since March 2020.

The program is currently in the development stage, and applications are not yet being accepted. Once launched, completed applications will be considered on a first come, first served basis, but it’s still unclear if the county or a third-party administrator will head the relief effort.