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Tampa to loosen rules on small business aid

The city’s crisis program targeting low-income areas suffering during the pandemic hasn’t thrived. So the city is relaxing its requirements
Tampa City Hall.
Tampa City Hall. [ CHARLIE FRAGO | Times ]
Published May 14, 2020
Updated May 14, 2020

TAMPA — A city program designed to help small businesses in low-income areas hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t received the desired response.

So the city is making it easier to qualify.

Mayor Jane Castor’s One Tampa program’s small business component launched late last month. The first round netted 141 qualified applications from businesses within the city’s eight community redevelopment areas, said Michelle Van Loan, the city’s community redevelopment director, Thursday.

The program provides eligible businesses direct payments of up to $4,000 for rent or mortgage and up to $1,000 for utilities, among other aid. The payments are grants, not loans, and don’t have to be repaid.

Van Loan told city council members, sitting as the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency board, that a second round, with looser rules, will be launched June 1.

Some of the changes include requiring businesses to have only been in operation for a year from Feb. 1, 2020, down from the previously required two years. The city is also raising the annual revenue limit to $350,000 from $250,000 and eliminating a maximum staffing requirement. Previously, a business could have no more than five employees, but now a business can qualify no matter how many workers it employs.

“We have listened to the feedback from our business community,” Van Loan said. “We are grateful to you for being an employer in that area and are not going to penalize you for having extra employees.”

Eligible businesses will still need to be located with the city’s redevelopment areas or low-income census tracts. But in another change, they will also be eligible for aid on their communication costs, Van Loan said.

The board’s new chairman, city council member Orlando Gudes, said he was happy to hear about the lower barriers. The previous iteration wasn’t effective, he said.

“People were hurting," he said. "We were not helping.”

Gudes also said businesses in operation at any point before January, when the pandemic began gaining steam in other parts of the world, should also be eligible.

“I think everyone is entitled,” he said.

Wednesday, Castor said the city reached out to the business community to find out how to make the grant program more effective.

“We didn’t get as many applicants in the small business as we had anticipated. And so we spoke with a number of small businesses and some consultants in the community. And so we have made changes,” she said.

One of those changes was requiring proof that business aid was needed because of pandemic-induced losses.

“That was sort of redundant because all of the businesses that were eligible were the restaurants, the barber shops, beauticians, those types of things. And if you’re in one of those businesses that was forced to close down, then clearly you have had a financial impact,” Castor told the Tampa Bay Times. The change is intended “to just to make it a little easier” for affected businesses to qualify, she said.

The second round will begin June 1 and continue through June 15, Van Loan told council members.

The redevelopment board approved $3 million in redevelopment funds for the program last month.

Related: CRA Board approves $3 million for small business relief

Carole Post, the city’s economic development and opportunity director, will give council members a detailed briefing on the One Tampa program, including the small business component, at its special Tuesday meeting.