Jacksonville City Council OKs emergency money for small businesses

short term loans
The city plans to initially invest $9 million.

In an emergency meeting Monday, the Jacksonville City Council approved legislation to establish a “COVID-19 Small Business Relief & Employee Retention Grant Program.”

The initial city investment is $9 million from sub-funds within the city’s general fund balance, with a “maximum exposure” total capped at $26 million over the next six years to cover interest and principal on loans.

Potentially, thousands of businesses on the precipice of failure could get a timely boost.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry teased the program in media briefings last week, citing the partnership with VyStar Credit Union.

The goal is to access money quickly for businesses. Curry said last week the turnaround time from application to disbursement would be “five days, soup to nuts.”

Passing the legislation was a foregone conclusion.

Council President Scott Wilson and the Council spent more time figuring out Zoom and the mechanics of emergency votes remotely than the rest of the Council did on floor debate of the bill. A waiver to overrule a ban against proxy votes was explained, then approved.

The bill passed in an unusual Monday meeting, with committees having been canceled throughout most of March due to coronavirus-driven shutdowns.

On behalf of the Curry administration were Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes and his chief deputy, Stephanie Burch.

Hughes said the response to COVID-19 “is causing a lot of pain to small business owners and creating havoc in the job market.”

The program offers access to capital for businesses with as few as two employees and as many as 100, “providing capital at low cost and doing it very quickly,” Hughes added.

“This is the first of what will probably be many actions we will take,” Hughes said, noting VyStar’s willingness to help and the credit union’s “very strong capital position” as value adds that informed this specific collaboration.

VyStar will take a key role screening prospective applicants, “because it’s what they already do every day,” Hughes said.

Hughes is confident those companies benefiting from the program are not precluded from federal assistance.

Worth noting, church nonprofits are as eligible to apply as for-profit small businesses one might have expected to be the primary beneficiaries of this program.

Low-interest loans are the main vehicle, but there are grants and even a forgiveness component to certain businesses should they maintain employment levels, Hughes said.

Bars, restaurants and day cares are eligible for funding, said a representative from the credit union. Even companies and applicants with poor credit are in the game, as long as they can demonstrate a recent income stream to show viability.

One caveat: companies involved in “illegal activity” are not eligible for the monies.

Hughes noted other proposals being explored, including fee forgiveness and rent forgiveness for tenants in city facilities.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


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