Orange County uses $10 million in federal aid money to give restaurants grants for following health guidelines

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Orange County will use $10 million in federal coronavirus aid money to offer restaurants $1,000 grants for following pandemic-related health guidelines, officials said Thursday.

SafeDineOC is intended to reimburse businesses for the costs of buying facial coverings and cleaning supplies, establishing physical distancing through changes like moving outdoors as well as other costs related to coronavirus restrictions. County officials described it as a means of rewarding rather than punishing businesses for following the rules as well as a way to reassure their consumers.

“It gives (customers) that little extra assurance that this is a restaurant that cares about their customers and cares about their workforce,” said Lucy Dunn, CEO of the Orange County Business Council.

The Board of Supervisors approved the use of $10 million in funding from the federal CARES Act for the new program.

The application period opens Thursday and will end when the funding runs out or within 60 days — whichever happens first. Restaurants can apply on the county’s website here.

As the number of cases reached 38,711 Thursday, county officials have not announced any new ways they plan to enforce coronavirus restrictions. A total of 697 people have died from the virus.

O.C. continues to stray from the level of enforcement seen in other parts of Southern California. In neighboring Los Angeles County, businesses can face fines of up to $500, permit suspensions and even possible misdemeanor charges if they repeatedly violating coronavirus restrictions.

While L.A. holds thousands more cases of the virus, and a much denser and larger population, other SoCal counties have also vowed to fine people or businesses flouting coronavirus rules. In Riverside County, Sheriff Chad Bianco gave a stern warning for those committing such violations.

“This is a valid order and enforceable by fine, imprisonment, or both,” Bianco said of a county health order requiring facial coverings in early April.

By that time, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department had lost two deputies to the virus.

Meanwhile, Orange County was one of just a handful of counties in California — and apparently the only one in Southern California — where sheriff’s officials said they will not enforce mask rules.

O.C. officials said they hope businesses struggling financially amid the pandemic will be compelled by the new $1,000 grant to follow the rules. Businesses will face the usual unannounced health inspections but no additional enforcement as part of the new program, officials said.

Multiple restaurant locations owned by the same person are each eligible for grants but a separate application must be submitted for each location. Receipts from purchases made between March 1 and Sept. 30 must be shown to receive the grant money.

Anyone with questions about the new program can email SafeDineOC@ocbc.org.

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