City’s virus-relief plan to aid businesses, others - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

City’s virus-relief plan to aid businesses, others

July 23rd, 2020 development
City’s virus-relief plan to aid businesses, others

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

The City of Chandler will award grants to pandemic-stressed local businesses with some of the $30 million it received from the state to ease the economic repercussions caused by COVID-19.

According to a plan presented to the City Council last week, the city has proposed dividing the relief funding into five categories: $9.5 million for local businesses, $7.7 million for improving the city’s technology, $1.6 million for community support, $1 million for protective gear and $10 million to be saved in the city’s reserves.

The grants – capped at $10,000 – will go to local businesses in the retail, health care, manufacturing, remediation and food service industries.

The city picked those industries based on the number of unemployment claims that have been filed since the pandemic began impacting businesses in March. The sectors that have had the highest rates of job loss were given priorityfor the money.

Only small for-profit businesses with fewer than 100 full-time workers would be eligible and recipients would have to prioritize the funding for keeping jobs.

Data collected by the city indicates there are more than 1,900 businesses who could potentially qualify for receiving a grant.

Nicknamed the “I Choose Chandler” initiative, the grant program will be administered by a separate entity or individual who will contract with the city to review applications and award the money.

This third-party vendor would have to judge applications based on guidelines set by the city, according to Economic Development Director Micah Miranda and be expected to provide weekly updates to the city on the program’s operations.

The grant program will be a “novel solution” to helping the local businesses most hurt by the pandemic, Miranda added.

While Mesa and Phoenix started handing out business grants months ago, smaller communities like Chandler had to wait significantly longer because the money was in the state’s hands.

Arizona’s three largest cities and three largest counties got a direct allotment from Washington D.C. but Chandler and scores of other municipalities had to wait for the Ducey Administration.

Even after Gov. Doug Ducey dispersed $441 million of Arizona’s federal funding to local cities and counties, Chandler still had to wait for further guidance on how it could spend its allotment without violating any state laws that prohibit the gifting of public dollars to private entities.

After a legal review of options, the city’s staff believes the grants can legally serve industries hit hardest by COVID-19.   

The city’s Neighborhood Resources Department will spend $1.6 million of the CARES money to support local food banks, after-school programs, senior citizens as well as help residents prevent eviction from their homes.

Neighborhood Resources Director Leah Powell said some of the money will also assist nonprofits in providing relief for homeless individuals who can’t find a place to escape from the summer heat.

Local shelters are already full, she said, and the places homeless individuals used to frequent to get out of the heat – such as public libraries – have been limiting their access due to COVID-19.

Powell’s department plans also to hire two full-time community “navigators” who can help homeless individuals find resources and stay off the streets.

The rate of homelessness has been increasing in Chandler for the last few years and the city is projecting that rate to grow by another 40 percent during the pandemic.

“I believe we’re already there,” Powell said about the projection. “We may have even already surpassed that.”

The $7 million in CARES funding Chandler has reserved for technology upgrades would be spent on replacing the city’s desktop computers with laptops, improving network security and modernizing the city’s video capabilities.

The city’s plan also allots $500,000 for purchasing protective masks and gear for Chandler’s public safety workers.

Another $500,000 will be allotted for local businesses looking to get reimbursed for buying masks, gloves and face shields.

The Chandler Industrial Development Authority, a nonprofit that operates independently from the city, recently established its own reimbursement fund for businesses that have had to spend hundreds of dollars on protective gear.

The IDA has so far awarded about $12,000 in reimbursement grants.

After reviewing how the city intends to divvy up the CARES allotment, City Council members seemed to generally approve of the plan and expressed a desire to quickly get the money out into the community.

Mayor Kevin Hartke approved of the plan and said he appreciated its flexibility by allowing for some of the $30 million to be saved in reserves.

“I think this is a good first step,” the mayor said. “It will give us the opportunity to be nimble with future funds.”

But Councilman Mark Stewart said the $10 million being saved in the city’s reserves is money he’d like to be spent sooner rather than later.

“I don’t think that we should be using much for reserve,” Stewart said. “I think we should be pouring it into the marketplace. That’s what it was intended to be used for.”

The city said it chose to save a significant amount in reserves in order to prepare for any unexpected future needs that may arise as the pandemic continues to unfold.

City Manager Marsha Reed said Council still has discretion to later change how and when the money held in reserves can be utilized.