Business Input on Federal Stimulus Funds Sought

THE NATOMAS BUZZ | @natomasbuzz

Sacramento Vice Mayor Jeff Harris represents most of South Natomas, the Gardenland neighborhood and Northgate corridor on the city council.

Sacramento Vice Mayor Jeff Harris held a virtual town hall last week to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses in his district, specifically South Natomas, Gardenland and the Northgate corridor.

About two dozen people participated in the May 1 town hall meant to give the local business community a voice in how COVID-19 economic relief efforts are distributed equitably.

Up for grabs is $89.6 million in federal CARES Act funds. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, was passed to address the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. It provides one-time funds to cities with a population of 500,000 or more.

The CARES Act funds must be used to reduce the impact closures and other restrictions related to the pandemic have had on Sacramento, its neighborhoods and businesses, Harris explained at the onset of the virtual town hall.

“We must use this money to stimulate our economy (to) get things back on track as best we can,” Harris said.

The town hall was attended by business owners and community leaders from South Natomas, Gardenland and the Northgate corridor as well as Assistant City Manager Michael Jasso, about a half-dozen staff members from the city’s Economic Development Department, and representatives from the River District PBID and Downtown Sacramento Partnership.

“How much money is allocated to the South Natomas area?” asked Grocery Outlet owner Nikki Chand. “What steps do businesses need to take to get support?”

Sacramento City Council members will have to decide how to spend the CARES Act money, explained Harris, adding that he wanted businesses in his district to “have a voice at the table.”

City officials have faced criticism after the bulk of $1 million in small business emergency economic relief program loans went to businesses located within the central city. Only three businesses in South Natomas and five in North Natomas received loans which were approved on a “first-come, first-processed basis,” Jasso said.

City council members will likely hold a workshop to talk about how to spend the CARES Act stimulus funds, said Jasso, adding his office wants “input from the community to inform the council.”

Harris said he didn’t want South Natomas, Gardenland and the Northgate corridor to be left out or unaware how the city council decides to use the money.

“This area of the city often feels neglected,” he added. “This forum is to ask questions of people making matrices and relinquishing checks.”

Gardenland Northgate Neighborhood Association board member Marbella Sala suggested the community organization could help city staff connect with area businesses about how to access CARES Act aid when it becomes available.

Julie Rhoten, executive director at Stanford Settlement Neighborhood Center, asked whether the council would consider allocating funding by council district or neighborhoods.

“What are the pros and cons to this approach?” Rhoten added.

Harris responded that each district has different needs.

“I would rather look at it in terms of how will this money create the best outcome,” Harris said. “We understand that some areas of the city are more economically stressed.”

Natomas Chamber of Commerce president Jeff Beckman pointed out that few chamber members were approved to receive Paycheck Protection Program loans meant to be an incentive for small businesses to keep workers on the payroll during the pandemic. Beckman said it will be important to engage business owners and let them know how CARES Act funds are spent is important to them.

“We are a little bit hamstrung,” said Harris. “But even in this environment we can create positive change and distribute some money that can make a difference in the short term.”

Participants later shared their thoughts about the town hall.

“I think it was informative. Glad (Harris) took the time to talk,” said Chand. “He answered the questions that were asked so it was nice to be able to engage in open conversation.”

Added Rhoten, “A partnership between community stakeholders and the economic development department will be the key to ensuring that our local small businesses access opportunities that will support their success during COVID-19 and beyond.”

Beckman said answering questions such as “how will the funds be allocated, who is eligible, who decides how to allocate it, how do you make small businesses aware of the opportunity, etc.” will be important moving forward.

“I’m sure the sense of urgency from a business owner is much higher now,” he said.

Businesses and business owners interested in providing input on how the city allocates CARES Act funds may email Harris’ constituent issues liaison Jocelyn Navarro at [email protected].

Town Hall Participants:

Natomas Chamber of Commerce, Stanford Settlement Neighborhood Center, Grocery Outlet, Gardenland Northgate Neighborhood Association, Lucy’s Beauty Salón, El Mercadito Méxican Market, and Los 3 Potrillos Western Wear.

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