Gov. Roy Cooper announces COVID-19 relief fund, large outdoor venue openings

Gov. Roy Cooper briefs media at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh. Photo via NC Dept. of Public Safety

RALEIGH – North Carolina small businesses that have experienced extraordinary disruption to their operations due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic may benefit from a $40 million relief program to help offset fixed costs like rent, mortgage interests and utility bills, Gov. Roy Cooper announced today.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy – powering our local communities and giving back in so many ways. They deserve our support, and this new initiative can help them weather this tough time,” said Gov. Cooper.

The N.C. Mortgage, Utility and Rent Relief (MURR), administered by the N.C. Dept. of Commerce, can provide up to $20,000 in relief funds per qualifying business location. Business applicants from certain industry sectors that have not been able to operate during the COVID period may apply for up to two of their business locations.

Applicants can apply for up to four months of mortgage interest or rent expenses, and utility expenses. The help offers relief for some of the fixed costs a business cannot easily control on its own.  Applications to the program should open next week and will be handled on a first-come, first-served basis. Applicants must certify that they were closed during the period April 1 through July 31, 2020; they expect to be able to operate after the COVID crisis has passed; and they have not been reimbursed by any other federal source for the expenses for which they seek reimbursement through this program.

Eligible applicants include amusement parks, banquet halls, bars, taverns, night clubs, bingo parlors, bowling alleys, dance halls, indoor fitness and recreation centers, indoor movie theaters, and museums.

Many of these affected industries have had varied levels of success in suing the governor to re-open their facilities. Representatives from the shuttered businesses have pled for months to simply open their businesses. The Phase 2.5 announcement allowed bowling alleys, indoor fitness and recreation centers, and museums to open, while keeping bars, night clubs, taverns, and indoor movie theaters closed.

Also today, Gov. Cooper said effective Oct. 2, large outdoor venues would be permitted to open at 7% capacity with key safety precautions in place. Large entertainment venues are those that can seat over 10,000.

The announcement was made today, according to Gov. Cooper, so these locations could begin putting safety measures in place in order to operate. Neither the governor nor N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services secretary Mandy Cohen elaborated on why the figure of 7% was chosen.

“We will continue analyzing our data and indicators as we determine how to move forward safely in other areas that may be included in the new order on October 2nd. In it, we hope to ease some other restrictions, while still keeping safety protocols like masks, social distancing, and mass gathering limits in place,” said Cooper.

”With more things open and people moving around more, we need everyone to stay vigilant about wearing a mask, waiting six feet apart, and washing their hands often,” said Cohen. “Our progress is fragile and will take our continued hard to work to protect it.”

Today’s announcement also comes after Cooper relented on banning parents from attending college athletic events.

Cooper and Cohen also left the door open to easing further restrictions before the current Phase 2.5 executive order expires on Oct. 2. at 5 p.m.