People line up for food at the Off the Grid Fort Mason Center food truck night market in San Francisco, Calif. on June 17, 2022. (Rya Jetha/Bay City News)

Thousands of small restaurants, bars and cafes in Santa Clara County won’t have to pay permit fees this year after the Board of Supervisors voted to implement a COVID relief program Tuesday.

The board’s unanimous vote freed up $6 million in relief funds for roughly 5,400 small food businesses throughout the county.

“Small businesses have had a harder time absorbing the losses brought about by the pandemic than large corporations and publicly traded companies, and minority-owned small businesses were hit especially hard,” Supervisor Otto Lee said in a news release Wednesday.

The eligible food service facilities account for roughly 54 percent of the county’s food service permit holders.

Businesses that qualify for permit relief must have two or fewer locations in Santa Clara County, must be operated by the same owner and have 25 or fewer employees at each location.

The relief program also applies to people in the Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operations program, which allows people to prepare and sell meals out of private home kitchens. The county will provide $140,000 in relief from fees for participants in this program.

Businesses that qualify for relief include cafes, bars, breweries, wineries and food trucks.

Annual permitting fees for restaurants vary in amount, but the most common permit for a food service business is $789 per year, according to the county.

The $6 million in funding comes from a $10 million pot of funding that the county set aside last year for small and microbusinesses that were negatively affected by the pandemic.

The county’s Department of Environmental Health, which will implement the program, estimates that 1,500 food facilities in the county closed permanently since the start of the pandemic.

“This is immediate and necessary relief to small businesses, and a sound investment decision by the county,” Board President Susan Ellenberg said in a statement. “Restaurants and other food businesses are a pillar of our regional economy and provide essential services to our community.”