Council approves free $2,000 debit cards for qualifying businesses

A business must have fewer than 100 employees and show revenue losses because of COVID-19.

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Qualifying Duval County businesses could soon receive a free $2,000 prepaid debit card from the city.

The Jacksonville City Council unanimously approved a bill May 26 that appropriates $9 million to fund 4,500 cards.

To qualify, a business must have fewer than 100 employees and show they’ve suffered a 25% or more reduction in revenue because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ordinance 2020-0247, filed as an emergency May 6 by District 5 Council member LeAnna Cumber, originally targeted small business owners with brick-and-mortar storefronts. She said that in addition to helping business owners, the bill would prevent more vacant commercial property in Jacksonville.

Council supported an amendment offered by Council member Randy DeFoor in the May 19 Finance Committee that added sole proprietors and 1099 contract workers who operate out of their homes eligible for the money so it could be used to pay their home mortgage, rent and utilities. It isn’t required to spend the $2,000 debit cards on those expenses.

DeFoor said May 26 she’s been contacted by constituents that didn’t meet a two-employee minimum requirement in the city’s $26 million COVID-19 small business relief program partnership with VyStar Credit Union.

Council members Joyce Morgan and Ron Salem said they heard the same complaint.

“I have a desire to help as many different people as we can,” Salem said. “This group has been left out, and I think it’s important that we try to be as inclusive as we can, throw the net out and try to catch everybody we can.

“There are a lot of people who work out of their homes that have been hurt by this pandemic and this legislation would help those people,” Salem said.

Cumber said the program’s qualifications and the payment distribution is modeled after the city’s $40 million COVID-19 program that offered $1,000 debit cards to individuals. It was part of a $159 million city stimulus program funded by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. 

Like the city’s $1,000 individual stimulus program, the $2,000 payment cards will be provided by Fidelity National Informations Inc. 

Cumber has been working with city Chief Financial Officer Patrick “Joey” Greive on how businesses can apply online for the $2,000 cards.

 Greive said May 19 that the cards will be mailed to business owners.

The $9 million is a reappropriation of what the Council approved to pay for the city’s portion of the VyStar loan program, Cumber said.

That money was reimbursed in the $159 million CARES Act award and would be returned to the city operating reserve fund at the end of the fiscal year if unused.

One type of business is not eligible for the $2,000 debit card  — adult entertainment services, including gentlemen’s clubs.

The ordinance barred a long list of business types from receiving the money, which Council member Aaron Bowman called government overreach. He offered an amendment to exclude adult entertainment operations.

Cumber said exclusions in the city-VyStar program and other city grants establishes the precedent to exclude some business types. 

In addition to adult entertainment businesses, the VyStar program excluded amusement parks, meat packing, marijuana and cannabis-related businesses and others.

Cumber successfully sponsored a bill in February that placed more restrictions on Duval County adult entertainment clubs and established a Sex Trafficking Survivors Leadership Council. 

She said it would be “hypocritical” of her to vote for a bill that allows businesses that she believes promote violence against women and human trafficking to receive money from the city.

A business owner who previously qualified for the city’s $1,000 stimulus program would be eligible for the $2,000 payment in the legislation passed May 26.




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