Fairfax City received some $2.1 million of Virginia’s CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act funds. And last Tuesday, June 9, City Council approved using $1,150,000 of this money for a business-support grant program, Fairfax City ReConnected Grant, to help small City businesses impacted by COVID-19.
Proposed by the City’s Economic Development Office, $1 million will fund the grant program, $50,000 is for a program manager and $100,000 is for related support activities. The other $945,000 will be held in reserve.
“We’d like to award the grants in late June,” said Economic Development Director Chris Bruno. “The program manager will design and implement the grants program, [which is] just one step in the long road to recovery.”
He said the money will go to businesses and industries needing it the most. “It’ll include considerable outreach to the [potential recipients], and this program will be on a reimbursement basis. Grants will be between $5,000 and $10,000. And in December or January, we can report to Council who received the grants and how successful they were.”
BEFORE GREENLIGHTING the program, Council members and other City officials discussed it during their June 2 work session. “I support this effort wholeheartedly,” said Commissioner of the Revenue Page Johnson. “The focus will be on businesses most at risk, but we’re also able to support our overall, business goals.”
And fortuitously, he and Chief Financial Officer Dave Hodgkins already identified the City’s strategic business segments. So, for example, said Hodgkins, “We can take sales-tax information and compare April 2019 and April 2020 numbers to see which business segments have been hit hardest by COVID-19 and by how much. Then we can create a program based on actual dollars.”
Regarding the $945,000, he said they’d bring a plan for it to Council soon, with spending priorities, such as additional investments in teleworking and keeping $200,000 in reserve for unanticipated expenses. It’ll also include reimbursing the City for its pandemic response-related costs.
“We had to spend out-of-pocket money on materials, supplies and personnel – such as PPE for our public-safety personnel – and these expenditures weren’t in our FY 20 budget,” explained Hodgkins. “We also had to change the way and how often we clean and sanitize things in our offices and buildings.”
IN DETERMINING the grant distribution, Johnson said, “We’re going to balance a business’s need vs. how much that business contributes to the City’s success. That sounds harsh, but these are public funds. For example, a small business may have a greater need than a restaurant because these small businesses have been closed three months, while restaurants have been able to have some business. We’ll try to sincerely and genuinely address those issues.”
Councilmember Sang Yi wanted women- or minority-owned businesses to receive special consideration for the grants. And Bruno said they’d look into it and, hopefully, should be able to do so.
“This is a huge task, and I appreciate everyone’s hard work,” said Councilmember Jennifer Passey. “This is new, so I ask businesses to work with us and have patience so we can make this a great grant program.”
Mayor David Meyer then told City staff, “We’re in uncharted waters, and you brought something to us that we hope will be the most effective and helpful to our businesses.” And at the Council’s June 9 meeting, the members voted unanimously in favor of it.