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Tampa plugs gap for troubled small businesses

The "Suzie-Q" grants will be a direct stimulus payment by city to businesses devastated by pandemic.

TAMPA — Tampa has spent millions since mid-April to help pay the bills for business owners and individuals whose lives have been scrambled by the coronavirus.

The city is now preparing to spent another $1.2 million to help approximately 580 small businesses that previously didn’t qualify for aid.

Related: Castor unveils One Tampa fund

Dubbed the “Suzie-Q” grant (by the acronym-loving administration of Mayor Jane Castor), the $2,000 direct stimulus payments can be used for anything to help “critically-impacted” businesses survive a little longer until federal help arrives.

Suzie-Q stands for “Start-up support and invoking equity,” and is intended to function as a lifeline for nail salons, bars, barber shops and other firms that have been effectively shuttered for most of the last three months.

It’s the third phase of city aid to businesses — which started under the One Tampa program in April —using a mix of philanthropic donations and ncity, community redevelopment and federal dollars.

The first two phases reached about 350 businesses in low-income areas whose applications met more stringent guidelines, said Carole Post, the city’s administrator for development and economic opportunity on Tuesday.

But the need remained citywide, so the current proposal will reach about 577 businesses, 400 of them equally divided between the four City Council districts that are defined by geography. (The city elects three council members citywide).

Related: Community Redevelopment Area dollars boosts One Tampa program

“We started with a small net and we’re casting it wider and wider,” Post said.

The latest round doesn’t have many hoops. As long as a business is on the county’s “critically-impacted” list, it’s eligible, she said.

Late next week, the city will debut a website where business owners can enter their tax identification to see if they qualify. If they do, a city business development specialist will hand-deliver a check to them and also help them see if they qualify for federal CARES Act money, of which up to $100 million is being distributed by the county.

Castor said using federal CARES Act money to help bar owners would be a good trade-off for keeping bars closed during the pandemic, during a Wednesday Facebook Live appearance.

The latest source of city funding is a mix of philanthropic and general fund dollars, Post said.

Although the grants determined by council districts will be funded once the website debuts, another 177 will have the money in hand by the end of the week in a pilot program, she said.

Once all the money is distributed, the city will have spent more than $4 million to help small businesses and individuals under the One Tampa program, Post said.

Council member Luis Viera welcomed the additional support for the city’s entrepreneurs.

“This grant program does what local government is best positioned to do on such a large scale crisis: fill in the gaps or serves as a lifeline for businesses that fall through the cracks or await federal aid. This program is responsive to a crisis that has devastated our local economy and small businesses and I support it,” Viera wrote in a text.

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