Jax Council Approves $159M Stimulus; $40M Will Help Residents Pay Bills

Apr 28, 2020
Originally published on May 1, 2020 5:54 pm

The Jacksonville City Council unanimously approved a $159 million stimulus package that Mayor Lenny Curry’s office proposed late last week.

The money from the stimulus comes from the Federal CARES Act, and it will be allocated into six different programs:

  • $40 million will go to Duval County residents that need help with  paying rent, mortgages and utility payments.
  • $35 million will go toward funding six COVID-19 testing locations in Duval County for six months. 
  • $12.5 million will be applied to Jacksonville’s COVID-19 emergency fund.
  • $26 million will go to the city’s portion of the Small Business Grant Program, in partnership with VyStar Credit Union. 
  • $25 million will be used to mitigate expected declines in city revenues, such as sales and bed taxes.
  • $20 million will be given to entities running city-owned facilities, such as the Jacksonville Zoo and Jacksonville Symphony. 

The $40 million will be given to 40,000 households in the form of $1,000 prepaid cards that people will pick up. The pickup locations will be at the Ed Ball Building and the Main Public Library. City officials said there will be appointments set up to avoid overcrowding, and social distancing measures will be enforced. 

When picking up the card, a person must have a driver’s license or state ID card, along with a copy of a pay stub, bank statement or letter from their employer to prove they were employed on February 29. 

Related: Local, State, And National Coronavirus Coverage

To qualify, a household’s income must be less than $75,000, and the income must have been cut by at least 25% due to the COVID-19 crisis. 

The process to apply will be able to be done over the phone or online. City officials said applications should take around a week to approve once the system is in place. 

City officials told the Council they’re still figuring out if the $1,000 will be considered taxable income. 

Overall, City Council responded positively to the legislation. 

“I'm excited about the thousand dollars going to each of these individuals,” said City Councilman Rory Diamond. “I just hope that we have a nice communication plan to get it out to everybody so that every single district has an equal shot, because there's need all across the city.”

Councilman Sam Newby said he wanted to see some of the $20 million earmarked for organizations running city-owned facilities to instead be allocated to help families in need.

“I think that - and this is just a comment from me - that it should be $10 million, and the other $10 million should go for the stimulus,” Newby said. “Instead of having $40 million, we should have $50 million because we have a lot of families out here that's really hurting.”

Councilman Garrett Dennis attempted to get an amendment into the legislation that would have  taken some of the money from the $25 million pool for expected declines in revenue. He proposed using some of that money for things like rent and mortgages. 

Five million dollars will go toward waiving building inspection fees. Dennis said the city has other avenues to get money for construction companies, including a $17 million fund that hasn’t been tapped into. 

His proposed amendment failed to make it into the bill’s language.

Dennis also proposed an amendment to guarantee that two mobile sites would be in the legislation along with the six COVID-19 testing locations already planned, but that didn’t pass either. 

Councilman Aaron Bowman said he was concerned about the quick processing of such a large sum of money. 

“We've got something that represents 1/15th of our annual operating budget, and we're turning it around in four days,” Bowman said. “So we normally spend about three months on this process. So it is concerning to me.”

City Council members also discussed the eligibility requirements for some employers looking to get a loan through the city’s and Vystar’s program. Sole proprietors don’t meet the eligibility requirements.

“This program was designed for between two and 100 employees to make sure that we're covering as many employees and keeping as many people employed and getting them employed as possible,” said Jacksonville Chief Financial Officer Joey Grieve. 

However, the city administration stressed that this loan program will most likely not be the only one available in coming months, with others allowing people who are self-employed to potentially qualify. 

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.

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