By Lucas Vader

Staff Writer

While 2020 was one unusual experience, 2021 is proving to be a different flavor of just that.

Along with the prominent national news of the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, which allegedly packs a strong success rate according to a variety of national sources, a specially new round of grants have emerged from the Colorado Municipal League (CML).

This grant is the “COVID-19 Relief for Small and Minority-Owned Businesses and Arts Organizations” and is made possible by the passing of Senate Bill 20B-001.

“Gov. Jared Polis signed into law SB20B-001 on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020,” a Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) press release stated. “The bill provides $57 million in direct aid, grants, and annual fee waivers to struggling small businesses and also creates grant programs and allocates funds specifically for art and cultural organizations as well as minority-owned businesses.”

This grant provides a total of $37 million to small businesses while also providing $7.5 million to arts and cultural organizations and $4 million specifically to minority-owned businesses.

“It also provides state assistance to support a one-year suspension of health inspection and liquor licensing fees,” according to CML. “All small businesses with annual receipts of less than $2.5 million in calendar year 2019 are eligible for relief through the program.”

The senate bill allegedly also provides a path for municipalities to work with their counties in order to award these grants and distribute the money in a timely manner.

The unique umbrella this new grant program — along with other programs similar to it — provides a light at the end of the tunnel for art organizations and nonprofits in particular which have lost much or all of their regular programming opportunities throughout the year, while the year ahead is currently uncertain.

A prime Delta County organization of such a type is that of Fort Uncompahgre Interpretive Center.

Chris Miller, executive director of the Interpretive Association of Western Colorado, takes the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel viewpoint determinedly, despite the fact that nearly all of the fort’s regular programming was cancelled in 2020.

“[We] need to get the word out that we’re all in this together, we’re all experiencing the losses, but let’s be optimistic and take this time to use as a reset button,” Miller said, more in reference to the year to come than the year that just ended.

According to Miller, while Fort Uncompahgre falls under the umbrella of the grant program due to its status with “Art and cultural organizations,” it has not yet pursued the brand new opportunity. It was most recently successful in securing a grant through Region 10 in the amount of $10,000. This allowed it to continue supporting staff as it got other tasks done in the off-time.

Now’s the tricky part, as the world waits for COVID to let up through changing weather and distributing vaccines, as the fort, like any other organization, experiments with planning potential events which may or may not be feasible by the time for which they’re scheduled.

Miller, for example, is trying to take direction for regular spring programming at the fort.

“What I’m looking at is reaching out to the school district because all of my school tours depend on activity buses, and if the school district is not allowing activity buses, then I have no school tours,” Miller said.

Miller is of course one of countless examples in Delta County where, while last year was an undesirable semi-apocalyptic dystopia, 2021 has the potential to be a disaster for the greater good despite the reset-button mentality surrounding it.

“Of course, now they’re doing the vaccine, so I’m thinking, okay, when is this COVID going to start showing signs of letting up so that small businesses can start planning?” Miller pondered.

Reports on the light at the end of the tunnel, as Delta County and beyond hopes it will be (concerning the virus, at least), will continue to run for an indeterminable amount of time, but for the time being, the newest grant program and other emerging similar programs are coming to light. The program is designed to work through municipalities and counties, and those sources will have the opportunity to apply directly for the money made available by SB 20B-001.

The DCI will report further on grants as information becomes available.

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