The Jacksonville City Council is looking at extending a lifeline to businesses adversely impacted by recent shutdowns.
Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber, a first-term Republican, filed a bill Wednesday that could put $2,000 of ready cash in 4,500 business owners’ hands, from a $9 million appropriation.
The small businesses may not be that small: They could have up to 100 employees.
On Friday, she discussed it in a meeting with colleagues, saying this would be the business equivalent of the $40 million resident relief program, routing $1,000 debit cards to low- and middle-income households that suffered losses in the past two months of the shutdown.
The federal CARES act moved $159 million to Jacksonville, paying the city’s $26 million for the residential program; however, the $9 million would come out of the city’s general fund.
Debit cards could be used again, said CFO Joey Greive, but direct deposit would also be an option.
Greive said it may take as long as 10 days to get the technology together for the $2,000 grant distribution.
Cumber noted huge response among citizens for the residential program, and said her bill “mirrors” that proposal, with targeted relief for rent and mortgage costs.
Restaurants, florists, and other businesses that have “lost a significant amount of business” could see their brick and mortar shops threatened without money to pay rent, Cumber said, which is not in the city’s interest.
Supportive Council members offered suggestions to improve the legislation, with Republican Ron Salem advocating for money for “sole proprietors,” who have been left out of relief at multiple levels of government.
Democrat Reggie Gaffney urged consideration of microgrants for “small churches” in the legislation.
“Anywhere between a congregation that has 50 to 100 members or less … to be able to help them for one or two months,” Gaffney urged. They will be eligible.
Republicans Al Ferraro and Danny Becton noted that some “sole proprietor” businesses that lack brick and mortar also lack access to unemployment checks.
“Their rents a lot of times are their home mortgages,” Becton said.
“This is greatly needed,” said former Council President Aaron Bowman, “but probably not nearly enough.”
There was some disagreement about whether more could be spent.
“The city coffers are running dry,” Councilman Ferraro noted, suggesting that the money would have to suffice.
Meanwhile, Republicans Terrance Freeman and Michael Boylan suggested that tapping into the city’s reserves may be an option if more was needed.