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Jax Daily Record Monday, Apr. 27, 202009:10 PM EST

City Council approves $159 million stimulus plan with $1,000 payments 

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Package paid for by federal aid includes money for nonprofits, free waivers and COVID-19 testing.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

The Jacksonville City Council unanimously approved a $159 million local COVID-19 stimulus package that includes $1,000 payments for 40,000 Duval County households, eases city fees for developers and provides money for aid to nonprofit and for-profit businesses partnering with the city.

The Council vote was 19-0 after 3½ hours of debate April 27.

Mayor Lenny Curry proposed the program April 23. It uses $159 million awarded to the city through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

City Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes said the city was informed by federal officials two weeks ago that Jacksonville was eligible for federal money based on its population size. The Curry administration was awarded the $159 million six days ago, he said. 

 Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Stephanie Burch said the city will begin taking applications for the individual stimulus aid within seven days by appointment, but the exact date will be released later this week.

The bill appropriates $40 million for Duval County households that will be distributed on prepaid debit cards through a city agreement with Fidelity National Information Services Inc.

FIS President and CEO Gary Norcross said during a news conference April 27 with Curry that FIS will provide the cards and processing services, while city employees will load and distribute the cards.

Appointment times will be set up online, Burch said, but people will complete the applications in-person at the city Edward Ball Building at 214 N. Hogan St. and the Jacksonville Main Library at 303 N. Laura St.

To be eligible for the $1,000, an applicant must: 

• Be a Duval County resident.

• Provide proof of employment as of Feb. 29.

• Make less than $75,000 per household on the date of application.

• Have lost at least 25% of income because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Burch told Council members that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines will be used at the appointment sites, including 6-foot social distancing and temperature checks.

People without internet or computer access can call 630-CITY for an appointment. 

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority will provide shuttle services to appointments for those who need it.

Burch said people applying for the $1,000 stimulus must bring documentation that they were employed as of Feb. 29. A pay stub, bank statement that shows direct or indirect deposits or a signed letter by an employer that shows income for at least a two-week period will be accepted. 

Applicants must provide their Social Security number and bring a state-issued driver’s license state or ID to their appointment. 

Burch said 15,000 to 20,000 unemployment claims were filed from Duval County through April 11, and acknowledged the slow processing at the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

She said people approved for the local stimulus will leave their appointments with the prepaid debit cards ready to use.

“It’s no secret the challenges people have had receiving direct payments, whether it’s unemployment or something else from the federal and state governments, we’ve worked really hard to build a program to get payments out quickly and responsibly,” she said.

The city expects to take four to six weeks to complete the $40 million program, with city staff working 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week.

Help for businesses and nonprofits

The plan includes $20 million for nonprofits and for-profit Duval County businesses that provide a service to or work in partnership with the city and have been impacted financially by the response to COVID-19.

City officials said it includes organizations like the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Jacksonville Symphony and The Florida Theatre.

Curry’s administration will return to Council with a full list of nonprofits and for-profits to receive money. 

Fee moratoriums

A $25 million portion of the bill would be allocated toward fee moratoriums for developers, general contractors and businesses.

City CFO Patrick “Joey” Greive said $4 million will be used to waive mobility fees for projects awarded building permits in the next six months. Another $5 million will be used for a six-month moratorium on all city building inspection fees. 

An effort by Council member Garrett Dennis to move the $5 million for inspection fee relief into the direct payment program for individuals failed. 

He argued that the construction industry has been least impacted by the COVID-19 shutdown compared to individuals and other sectors. 

Hughes and the Council said building and construction trades need the push because they could provide needed jobs during the coming recession, if service industry and other sectors are slow to recover.

The rest

Who gets the remaining $16 million is still not clear. Businesses that rent and lease city space like the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field or the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp at 121 Financial Ballpark could be eligible for relief if they adequately show COVID-19 impact to their revenue.

The bill gives Curry the authority to use the $25 million without future Council approval.

Greive said the city needs to quickly provide rent relief, which is why the Curry administration is seeking the authority to make those allocations unilaterally.

“We already have a dozen or so requests in for rent relief and parking concession, so we do know a certain amount will go out the door,” Greive said. “But it’s not possible to quantify today because we do anticipate over the coming weeks and months further request will come in.” 

A request by the Jacksonville Daily Record for what city leases and renters are eligible for the aid has was not been returned April 27.

The Council also approved $35 million to expand and sustain COVID-19 testing sites and other health care infrastructure needs as part of the bill. 

Another $12.5 million will be deposited in the city’s COVID-19 emergency account for response spending not reimbursed by FEMA.

Future of city revenue

Grieve said the city will be receiving sales tax distribution reports from the state in mid-to-late May, giving City Hall its first look at how COVID-19 will impact the city’s revenue.

Grieve said the $159 million in federal funding will help the city come through the coronavirus “quite strongly,” but Hughes added that the revenue is “definitely going to be changing.”  

“Make no mistake about it, and it’s pretty plain to see, there are impacts, very serious impacts,” Hughes said. “Bed tax and sales tax alone are definitely going to take substantial hits.” 

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