The Rock County Board has approved a $1 million emergency loan program to keep small businesses from closing permanently in the current struggling economy.

The Rock County COVID-19 Emergency Small Business Loan Fund will lend up to $20,000 to a small business that is experiencing financial problems attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board approved the program last Thursday.

Money from the program can be used to help “stabilize, sustain, strengthen or restart operations,” county officials said in a news release.

The application period for the loans is tentatively set to open April 24.

James Otterstein, Rock County economic development manager, said the loan program is one way to keep the economy stable during uncertain times.

“This is another tool that our team can deploy to facilitate, as well as accelerate, economic repositioning and revitalization efforts throughout the Janesville-Beloit MSA (metropolitan statistical area),” Otterstein said.

Private, for-profit businesses in good standing and not operating as home-based businesses will be eligible for loans. Those that provide services and those that support the hospitality and business services sectors will get priority.

The loans will be structured as low-interest, working capital loans and can be extended up to 60 months.

Four county supervisors and three residents will make up the Loan Fund Committee, which will oversee the program. The Rock County Planning, Economic and Community Development Department will manage daily operations.

The committee will make final loan decisions.

Rock County Board Chairman Russ Podzilni said the board wanted to help small businesses.

“We recognize the economic hardships that our small businesses, particularly those with fewer than 20 employees, are experiencing, and we wanted to help,” he said.

County Administrator Josh Smith agreed.

“Economic recovery efforts are fueled by public/private partnerships, and this emergency small-business fund reinforces the county’s commitment to keeping those partnerships active and functional,” Smith said.

The loan program will operate until the funds are exhausted.