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Jax Daily Record Friday, May 8, 202005:10 AM EST

Jacksonville business owners could get $2,000 debit cards from city

Council member LeAnna Cumber introduces plan funded by federal money.
by: Mike Mendenhall Associate Editor

Business owners in Duval County may soon be able to apply for a $2,000 city stimulus payment.

Ordinance 2020-0247, introduced by Council member LeAnna Cumber, reappropriates $9 million that was to pay for the city’s portion of a COVID-19 small business relief program partnership with VyStar Credit Union.

That money was reimbursed by the federal government through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

Like the city $1,000 city stimulus payments to qualifying Duval County residents, payments would be distributed by prepaid debit card.

Cumber said the intent is to help business owners pay rent and mortgage expenses.

“Utility bills can change, prices of food shipments and merchandise fluctuate, but they still have to pay the same mortgage. They still have to pay the same rent,” Cumber said.

Cumber said there will not be a mechanism to ensure businesses spend the aid on rent or mortgage bills and the legislation relies on business owners to make that determination. 

“The idea is the city is here to help with these hard costs,” Cumber said. “Like with the individual assistance, we have to trust that they’ll use the money for what the bill intends.”

The District 5 Republican introduced the bill May 6 as a one-cycle emergency. If the emergency is approved, the full Council could take up the bill for a final vote May 26.

Cumber said the program’s qualifications and the payment distribution will be modeled after the city’s $40 million individual COVID-19 aid program that offered $1,000 debit cards. It was part of a $159 million city stimulus program funded by CARES Act money. 

Like the $1,000 debit cards being distributed to qualifying Duval County residents, Cumber’s plan would distribute money immediately to business owners.

A fact sheet filed with the bill May 6 states to qualify, a business owner must: 

• Be located in Duval County.

• Have been in business for at least one year as of Feb. 29. 

• Must have no more than 100 employees on Feb. 29.

• Must document the number of employees as of Feb. 29.

• Must show a 25% reduction or more in revenue as a direct result of the COVID-19 crisis as of Feb. 29.

• Must fill out and sign a W-9 form.

• Must sign a certification that they have received the debit card.

• Sign an affidavit certifying the foregoing eligibility criteria.

“We’re not going to solve all the problems. What it does is give a shot in the arm to the economy and helps these businesses that need a boost to get over the finish line,” Cumber said. 

A servicer for the prepaid debit cards has not been determined, Cumber said. The city contracted with Fidelity National Information Services Inc. on the program for individuals. 

Cumber said she’s working with Curry’s staff to put most of the application process online. 

Cumber said the program would help businesses that did not qualify for the city-VyStar loan program.  She said self-employed business owners, like florists, might not meet the two-employee minimum.

Council unanimously approved the VyStar partnership April 6, creating a $26 million, six-year COVID-19 grant program that covers interest payments and some principal payments for small business loans up to $100,000, if employers met certain employee retention requirements.

VyStar relaxed lending underwriting criteria for those loans, but not all small businesses qualified.

Helping small businesses survive COVID-19 closures, Cumber said, will benefit individual income and the city’s general fund. 

“If they lose that brick-and-mortar business, then there’s another empty storefront,” she said. “And for those people who we’re hoping to come back that are furloughed or laid off, now don’t have a place to come back to.”

The concept for Cumber’s small business mortgage/rent relief program was debated May 5 at the Council Finance Committee meeting. 

The proposal received support from several council members, including Joyce Morgan and Randy DeFoor, who voiced concerns that sole proprietors are being left out from city aid.

“We allocated (the $9 million) once, so I have no problem allocating it again. The other thing I would say is, we made a promise to those who were self-employed who missed out on the VyStar relief, and who missed out on the CARES Act,” DeFoor said. “I am going to support Ms. Cumber in this regard because we made a promise to them.” 

Council members will discuss the program again in a 3 p.m. virtual Zoom meeting May 8.

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