Kern officials are sorting through a large number of applications to the county's new business loan program and prioritizing certain at-risk applicants that have not received federal financial assistance during the coronavirus quarantine.

Several hundred businesses have applied for forgivable loans since the program's launch earlier this month, Kern County Chief Operations Officer James Zervis said, adding that 54 businesses have so far been approved for disbursements averaging about $23,000.

The sum allotted so far, $1.27 million, represents about 5 percent of the program's $25 million total. Individual loans may not exceed $75,000.

Zervis said priority is being given to businesses deemed nonessential during early phases of the stay-home order California adopted March 19.

That means businesses most likely to qualify for a loan at this point include local restaurants, hotels and other tourism-related businesses that did not get federal loan money, he said, as well as dentists and optometrists that were allowed to offer only emergency services.

"These are businesses that were effectively shut down,” he said.

The loans do not have to be repaid providing borrowers meet certain guidelines.

No less than 34 percent of a recipient's loan money must be spent on payroll and related expenses, Zervis said. No more than 33 percent may go toward rent, utilities and mortgage interest, and no more than 33 percent may go toward general capital needs.

Loans that do not qualify for forgiveness are due, along with 1 percent interest, within 26 weeks of issuance, according to a county website with information about the program:

Another important restriction is that the loan money must be spent within 16 weeks of the loan's issuance, or by Dec. 30, whichever comes first.

Only four financial institutions are participating in the loan program: AltaOne Credit Union, Mission Bank, Valley Republic Bank and Valley Strong Credit Union. The county website says applying through more than one of these could jeopardize a business's loan application.

Follow John Cox on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf.

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