Stimulus bills offer monetary relief to struggling businesses, nonprofits

Sensitive to the plight of small businesses, many of which have struggled to survive since the Coronavirus pandemic descended in March, Jacksonville City Council members voted unanimously May 26 to offer a financial lifeline to help kickstart their endeavors to reopen.

The bill, which was introduced by District 5 Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber of San Marco and co-sponsored by 10 council members, sets aside $9 million to create the city’s Small Business Relief Grant Program, a plan that will distribute payments of up to $2,000 to Duval County businesses that can show they have lost at least 25% of their revenue due to COVID-19. The intent of the bill is to assist qualifying businesses in paying rent, mortgages, or other fixed expenses.

The grant program mirrors another city stimulus program that has so far provided $1,000 in assistance directly to 40,000 Jacksonville residents who most need it. The plan has been so successful, Council members also voted May 26 to add $5 million to expand it. That plan granted debit cards to Duval County residents who earn less than $75,000 a year, have lost at least 25% of their income due to the pandemic, and need help with mortgage, rent and utility payments.

The city’s nonprofit community was also not left out of the Council’s largesse May 26. The Council appropriated $1 million toward the First Coast Relief Fund, which is administered by the United Way of Northeast Florida, to help nonprofit organizations serve individuals and families in need during a community crisis.  

“We now have a safety net under almost every segment of our population,” said Group 4 At Large City Council Member Matt Carlucci after the meeting.

The Small Business Relief Grant program is not to be confused with the loan program offered by VyStar in partnership with the City of Jacksonville to assist in keeping businesses afloat. There the city’s contribution to the Small Business Lending Program was between $20 and $30 million, and was to be used to provide a combination of grants, interest payments, and potential aid toward the principal of loans to small business owners, with some elements tied to employee retention, according to VyStar’s website. 

In contrast, Cumber’s small business bill, officially called Ordinance 2020-0247, provides grants to business owners and is meant to assist Duval County companies that have been operating at least a year and employed less than 100 employees as of Feb. 29, 2020.  District 14 City Councilwoman Randy DeFoor also filed an amendment, which passed, allowing self-employed, sole proprietors, and those working from home, to also qualify.

“I’m very excited that we could get together as a council and help,” Cumber said. “I think this is a boost for those small businesses who need it. I’m happy I could sponsor some legislation and happy that my colleagues are all supportive, and we came out with a great bill.”

Carlucci said that an application portal could be online as soon as Wednesday, June 3.

Before the vote, Cumber said City administrators were prepared to get the program online quickly.

“I think addressing fixed costs like rent and mortgage is one way the City can help,” Cumber said. “They are hard to negotiate, you have to pay them in the end, everything else can pretty much fluctuate. I thought it would be a good idea to help them with their rent and mortgage. Council has done the same thing for individuals. We want to keep people in their homes, we want to keep people in their businesses.”

Cumber said the money funding the program would come from $9 million already appropriated by the city for Coronavirus relief. Originally, that city funding was going towards the VyStar loan program and would pay the interest on emergency small business loans. It was part of a $26 million City package that over six years would pay for 10% of the principal on the loans if businesses retained their employees. However, when the City was able to get $159 million in federal relief, it was able to use federal funds instead of City funds, she said. 

“I wanted to take that $9 million and put it back into small business relief,” Cumber explained. “I really hope that it can give folks a shot in the arm and a little relief as they are really starting and trying to come back. We can’t solve all of the issues, nor is that the role of government in my mind. But I think we are in extraordinary times. I think helping with those hard, fixed costs to get people over the hump is really important and a really good use of taxpayer funds.” 

Cumber also said residents could do their part by patronizing local businesses to “get those businesses back up and running.” 

DeFoor said her amendment to the bill was to address business owners who have fallen through the cracks for all other types of aid, both federal and city.

“What I’ve heard loud and clear from constituents is that 1099s have been left out, not just of the previous VyStar relief act but also the CARES act. Both required brick and mortar as well as employees,” she explained. “For VyStar, you had to have two or more employees. I wanted to make sure that those (self-employed) individuals and sole proprietors who did not have employees and/or work at home can also get relief. I think it obviously will provide relief to small businesses such as restaurants and service industries. It’s going to be very helpful, and we want that, we want to help as many people as possible.”

Carlucci also supported the bill. 

“Even though it’s coming out of our operating reserves, I think we can afford that to happen during this emergency, and I think Council-woman Cumber is putting a safety net underneath some people who for some reason or other didn’t qualify for some of the other relief bills,” he said. “I think she is capturing a lot of people who fell through the hole and is providing safety nets (through the bill).”

The other relief bill that passed unanimously was Ordinance 2020-243, sponsored by District 9 City Councilman Garrett Dennis, that added $5 million to a City program that gave $1,000 to individuals through pre-paid debit cards that the City was still distributing in May. Carlucci said the money would come from an “overaccumulation” of money for permits and fees. “We might be charging too much for those,” he said, noting the fees were for different aspects of the building process and are in excess of what the City Building Department needs to support itself. 

Meanwhile, Ordinance 2020-0248, which will assist nonprofits, was sponsored by District 6 City Councilman Michael Boylan. It will help nonprofits that directly serve clients in need of such things as food, housing, medical care, and other necessities.

“It helps the programs of the nonprofits, not the nonprofits themselves. You can make an application directly to the nonprofit.” he said. 

“I’m very supportive and pleased with the support my colleagues have given me and given this bill,” Boylan said. “And I certainly support Councilwoman Cumber’s bill. The small businesses have fallen through the cracks in this process. They can’t get unemployment money from the state, and although they get individual relief, that’s not helping their business any.”

By Jennifer Edwards
Resident Community News

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)