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The Greater Reading Chamber Alliance and Berks County have announced the creation of a financial aid program for area restaurants and hospitality businesses impacted by the coronavirus.

The COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program (CHIRP) will award more than $4.7 million in grants to Berks food service and drinking establishments or accommodations, according to Monday's announcement.

CHIRP will begin accepting online applications for the grants at rebuildberks.com/funding starting next Monday at noon.

"The county is grateful to once again partner with GRCA to help get critical funds out to our local businesses," county Commissioner Michael Rivera said in a statement. "Our hospitality industry is a large part of what makes Berks County thrive, and after the past year of so many uncertainties, these grants will provide the boost they need to get back on their feet."

Grants will be awarded in increments of $5,000, with a maximum value of $50,000 per eligible applicant, to be based on the applicant's annual revenues.

The program is open to all Berks hospitality businesses that did not exceed 300 full-time employees or a tangible net worth of $15 million in 2019, and sustained a 25% reduction or more in gross receipts for any quarter in 2020, among other requirements. Applicants who have not received other coronavirus-related funding will be given priority for CHIRP aid.

Hospitality businesses that closed or ceased operations as a result of COVID may also be eligible if certain financial criteria were met.

The initial application window is scheduled to end April 15. If there is CHIRP money leftover after the initial round of funding, the application process will reopen until funds are exhausted.

"As most of us know, the hospitality sector has been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic," Jim Gerlach, chamber president and CEO, said in a statement. "GRCA is proud to facilitate this important program that will aid those businesses in most need of resources."

Full requirements for CHIRP eligibility, information on how to apply and more details can be found on the Rebuild Berks website.

The program will also be the topic of a county commissioners meeting Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. that can be viewed on BCTV or the Berks County's Facebook page. Viewers can submit questions about the program in the comments section on Facebook.

The money for CHIRP comes from legislation the state passed in February setting aside $145 million in financial aid for hospitality businesses impacted by COVID-19.

Last fall, the chamber and the county coordinated on creating Rebuild Berks, which has already overseen the allocation of $11.2 million in CARES Act funding that assisted 473 local businesses.

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