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Miami could offer small businesses loans and grants for coronavirus economic recovery

April 21, 2020

By: Joey Flechas

Small business Event Service Group keep workers with hope of the SBA loans promise from the government as the coronavirus outbreak creates a work stoppage, April 8, 2020. By: Charles Trainor Jr.

Miami’s city government could create a program to distribute $1 million to keep small businesses afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.

Commissioners on Thursday will consider approving a package of assistance programs that aim to help local businesses survive the economic downturn brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nonessential businesses were shaken when governments ordered them to close in mid-March. Such orders have sent economic ripples through South Florida and the nation, fueling layoffs, furloughs and skyrocketing unemployment claims.

Before starting a detailed discussion on when to start reopening businesses in the city of Miami, administrators are proposing financial aid packages to help proprietors keep the lights on and employees on the payroll. After state and federal assistance dollars quickly dried up following a crush of applications, many owners are still hoping to get some help.

Administrators have proposed using $1 million in federal grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to fund two assistance programs that would offer emergency loans to small businesses and grants to micro businesses, a term for establishments with five or fewer employees. The city received the federal grants as part of Congress’ $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package, which passed in late March.

Under one of the programs, $400,000 would be steered toward micro businesses, the smallest of small businesses, to pay for salaries, rents and other bills. Grants of up $10,000 would be available for the smallest of small businesses to pay for salaries, rents and other bills. Owners of such businesses must have an income that is less than or equal to 80% of the area median income, depending on the size of the owner’s household.

“The goal of the micro-enterprise assistance program is to provide low- to moderate-income business owners with financial assistance that will result in business stabilization in the next three months,” the guidelines for the program say.

The other program would provide $600,000 in emergency loans for for-profit businesses located within Miami’s city limits, regardless of the number of employees. Loans ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 would be available to cover salaries, rent/mortgage, utilities and insurance payments. The loans could become grants if jobs are retained for at least one year, and at least half of the jobs that are created or maintained are filled by low- and moderate-income workers.

Under the program, a three-member committee appointed by the city’s director of housing and community development, George Mensah, would meet virtually within three days of receiving an application to determine if the business qualifies for the assistance.

Mayor Francis Suarez said the loans could help fill gaps left by Payroll Protection Program loans since owners could use the money to pay the rent and utilities. The mayor said a few key sectors in the city’s economy need the most help.

“The biggest ones are the retail sector and the restaurants,” Suarez said. “They’ve been decimated.”

Both programs would be first-come, first-served.

In a separate proposed resolution, the city would pay three community organizations $50,000 each to assist small businesses in applying for federal loans. Catalyst Miami, Prospera and the Allapattah Collaborative Community Development Corp. would divide up the city and help owners prepare and submit their loan applications.

Mileyka Burgos-Flores, executive director of the Allapattah group, told the Miami Herald the whole suite of programs would provide much-needed relief, but no matter how well-intentioned, they must be implemented so that the neediest local businesses and workers benefit.

“We really need to make sure that it’s really going to the small businesses that are sustaining our communities,” she said.

Commissioners are scheduled to meet via video conference Thursday to discuss the assistance programs, among other agenda items.

Administrators are also planning to use another $2 million in federal grants to help Miami residents pay for rent and utilities. The details of the program, which are still being finalized, are expected to be released Friday. The plan wouldn’t be the first time the city helps tenants pay rent. In October, commissioners approved a $1 million program to help some low-income seniors pay for rent increases.

This story originally appeared on The Miami Herald