The El Paso County Commissioner’s Court has made more funding available for small businesses as the pandemic wears on, and, with it, the financial hardship brought on by closures and restrictions.
Last week, Commissioner’s Court approved using $10 million in unallocated emergency reserve funds to establish a regional economic relief program.
The allocation was unanimously approved at a virtual commissioner’s court meeting. County Commissioners Carlos Leon and David Stout were appointed to join staff in roundtable discussions with partner agencies to develop the program.
The details of the regional economic relief program have not been finalized, but county officials said it would be used to expand existing programs and establish new ones.
The county is looking to partner with other entities, including the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and El Paso Chamber, to allocate the funding, which could include low-interest loans, grants and forgivable loans for local small businesses.
The program could also include additional loan money and loan forgiveness for businesses that adopt policies for employee COVID-19 testing and quarantine requirements, “a requirement that all employees report any health symptoms, whether related to allergies or illness, immediately to management and specific consequences should an employee fail to report symptoms or fail to report a positive COVID-19 test,” and other protocols, according to an internal draft of the program that was attached to last week’s meeting agenda.
The finalized program will be brought for approval to the commissioner’s court on Dec. 7. The draft document emphasizes that it is not the final version of the economic relief program.
The program could prioritize small businesses in unincorporated or smaller municipalities of El Paso County – those areas outside the city of El Paso but inside El Paso County, according to the draft.
One caveat county commissioners discussed last week was that the businesses eligible for the assistance have to be in compliance with the county’s rules and orders, and County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said the funding would not be available for “bad actors” that have been cited.
Stout said the funding could help with “rewarding those that are behaving and making sure they continue to follow the orders and do what’s right and what’s responsible.”
“I think that this opportunity is going to be very beneficial to the businesses that are really in need, and I’m glad we’re keeping it to smaller businesses,” Stout said. “I want to make sure we’re having the deepest level of impact as we possibly can.”
Jose Landeros, interim director of the county’s economic development department, said his team has looked at programs at other counties and cities, including Dallas, that have excluded businesses that have litigated against county COVID-19 orders from receiving funding from similar programs.
“We can create as many restrictions and controls to make sure they’re doing everything appropriately, and then compare that to industry standards as well to provide for that,” Landeros said.
The newly approved $10 million allocation “would leave county reserve levels at 10% in accordance with the County Fiscal Policies whereby the Court strives to maintain a 10 to 15 percent reserve,” according to the county.
Last week, the county also unanimously approved providing $250,000 in CARES Act funding to the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to assist small businesses with safety equipment and updates, rent and utility assistance.
CARES Act funding expires at the end of December.
El Paso County commissioners also approved an additional $600,000 agreement with Lift Fund to provide financial help to small businesses, and the El Paso City Council approved $2 million toward Lift Fund.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter Sara Sanchez at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 534-4422.