Montgomery County introduces new hospitality industry recovery program

The county announced the end of the previous grant program and introduced a new program with funding coming from the state.

The Drake Tavern in Jenkintown, Pa. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The Drake Tavern in Jenkintown, Pa. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Montgomery County has awarded $6 million in grants to 600 food service businesses as part of its MontcoStrong 2021 Restaurant Grant Program. Last year, the county awarded nearly $20 million in grants to small businesses financially struggling because of the pandemic.

“Small businesses, especially restaurants, help define our communities. When they suffer, our community suffers,” said Ken Lawrence Jr., vice chair of the county commissioner during this week’s board meeting.

As a part of the most recent grant allocation, the Redevelopment Authority and the County Commerce Department doled out $10,000 in grants to eligible recipients.

When the grant was first announced, county officials stressed that the funds would be spread out equitably across the population.

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Grant awardees came from 56 municipalities. Of those business awardees, 33% are owned by people of color and 33% are owned by women, according to data from the Commerce Department.

“This program was jointly administered by the Montgomery County Commerce Department and the Redevelopment Authority of Montgomery County. So I’d like to thank Dave Zellers, our director of commerce, and also the director of the RDA and their board for their assistance in this program,” Lawrence said.

This will not be the last opportunity for small businesses to receive economic relief. Governor Tom Wolf signed Senate Bill 109 earlier this month.

“This created a block grant program for counties to apply to receive funds to administer small business grants to eligible applicants,” Zellers said during the meeting. “These grants, per the legislation, are to be awarded in increments of $5,000 to $50,000. We must begin taking applications for this program no later than March 15 of this year and have all grants awarded by June 15 of this year.”

The board moved in support of this. Pending solicitor approval, the MontcoStrong 2021 Pennsylvania Hospitality Industry Recovery Program will soon be clear to start accepting applications.

The application period begins March 12 and additional details can be found here.

“I’m particularly happy to see these funds coming from the state,” said Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the county commissioner. “Most of the money that [Zellers] discussed earlier has been from our county allocation CARES Act funding, but this is now additional money coming into our county from the state, which is fantastic news, and money that will go to two industries that I think are the hardest-hit — the hospitality industry and the restaurant industry.”

Commissioners clash — again

While this announcement brought a friendly tone to Thursday’s meeting, the way it began was particularly tense.

In his first meeting after announcing his gubernatorial run, Commissioner Joe Gale engaged in a verbal spat with his fellow board members regarding an annual employee pin ceremony during his opening comments.

“I learned recently that pins, along with a letter, were mailed out to about 250 employees, recognizing them for their years of service, and I was contacted by multiple county employees that were very upset and insulted that my name did not appear on this letter,” Gale said.

Gale told Arkoosh and Lawrence that he was insulted by his lack of appearance on county letters and announcements such as the recent proclamation for Black History Month. Gale, who is white — and has previously called Black Lives Matter a “hate group” — said that his colleagues insulted county employees and the Black community.

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“The two of you are obsessed with being vindictive towards me,” Gale said.

Lawrence wasted no time offering a rebuke to Gale by saying that he will not sign documents with him or attend ceremonies with him unless legally required to do so.

“And if you think that your participation trophy entitles you to sign ceremonial resolutions, I suggest that you get your legal team together — that same team that said that you could run for lieutenant governor before you were constitutionally old enough to do so, the same legal team that told you that you could block constituents — and I’d advise you to sue the county,” Lawrence said. “How dare you talk about the Black community after the fear, division, and anger that you caused with your racist statements in June? You’re really a piece of work.”

Gale dismissed Lawrence’s response as “cancel culture.”

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