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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Mar. 31, 202001:20 PM EST

City, VyStar to partner on loan program to help small businesses

Curry administration plans to introduce the program to Council next week.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

The city announced a partnership March 31 with VyStar Credit Union on a loan program to help small businesses struggling to remain viable because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mayor Lenny Curry said the city will contribute $20 million to $30 million to the plan to be used in a combination of grants, interest payments and potential aid toward loan principals. He said some elements of the assistance will be tied to employee retention.

The mayor announced the program during a virtual City Council meeting March 31. The Curry administration is drafting legislation for the program and plans to introduce it to Council by next week. He said more details will be released in the next few days after the bill is finalized. 

Curry told the Council the program is aimed to keep businesses open and retain employees.

In a news release, VyStar President and CEO Brian Wolfburg said providing “expanded and expedited economic relief for entities suffering from the impact of COVID-19 is simply better.”

“Whether in times of prosperity or times of need, our commitment has never wavered when it comes to our members, our neighbors and our communities,” he said. “Today, that commitment takes the form of much-needed funds to help keep small businesses operating, nonprofit and cultural organizations thriving, and people working.”

A city-backed aid package has been a recurring talking point in Curry’s daily virtual news conferences since March 23. He said March 26 that city aid could include direct financial payments to businesses.

During the March 31 Council meeting, Curry said his staff would ensure any local aid package would not impact benefits small businesses can receive from the federal government’s $2.2 trillion stimulus package signed by President Donald Trump on March 27. 

The Duval County assistance program is the latest government effort to help small businesses stay afloat as social distancing orders prevent retailers, bars, restaurants and other businesses from conducting normal operations.

Gov. Ron DeSantis activated the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program March 16, allowing business owners with two to 100 employees to apply for short-term interest-free loans of up to $50,000.

Jacksonville City Council President Council President Scott Wilson said the aid package could be considered as an emergency next week.

The Disaster Loan Assistance Program through the U.S. Small Business Administration offers low-interest loans for Florida businesses with a $2 million borrowing limit. 

After announcing the public-private partnership, Curry said there’s reason to be optimistic but people “need to face the reality of the situation we’re in.”

“People have lost their jobs. More people are going to lose their jobs. People who have poured their lives into creating small businesses, some have seen that evaporate almost overnight,” Curry said. “So, we’ve got to be optimistic and action-oriented, but we also have to be very real with people so we can take care of each other.” 

Answering a question from Council member Terrance Freeman, Curry said loan approval will take up to 72 hours after a business submits its application. 

“How long will the process take? Five days, soup to nuts, from beginning the process to approval and deploying the resources,” Curry said. 

Council President Scott Wilson said the aid package could be considered as an emergency next week. 

Wilson expects Council to resume its regular committee work virtually at 9 a.m. April 6 with the Neighborhoods, Community Service, Public Health and Safety Committee agenda meeting.


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