Monday, March 23, 2020 by Chad Swiatecki

Council widens scope of how to lessen COVID-19’s economic impact

A City Council resolution intended to assist small businesses and employees impacted by the cancellation of South by Southwest has been expanded in recent days to include aid for child care services and health care providers for senior citizens, with more additions possible.

Council Member Jimmy Flannigan originally took up the measure following the cancellation of SXSW because of concerns that attendees from other countries could increase the spread of the COVID-19 virus locally. That cancellation meant the city’s music venues and entertainment businesses stood to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue, with many of the hourly workers laid off or facing drastic pay cuts.

Ahead of Thursday’s Council meeting, other Council members have used Flannigan’s resolution as the vehicle for the city’s initial swing at assessing what budgetary dollars, programs and partnerships can be put into play to lessen the pandemic’s impact on the local economy.

Council Member Kathie Tovo has put forward amendments to provide resources for local child care businesses so they can continue to operate safely without contributing to the spread of the virus.

Tovo and Council Member Alison Alter are also scheduled to meet with local restaurateurs Monday to assess what forms of assistance may be needed to keep large numbers of local eateries from closing for good.

“The landscape has changed so dramatically since the resolution was first drafted, and where some of those ideas could have taken a little more time to report back, right now we all have constituents, community and neighbors who need immediate assistance,” Tovo said. “I’m hoping maybe we can get to some more specific program ideas for our staff to evaluate. All of us are probably sitting on ideas we’re hearing about that we want to give to our economic development staff. The challenge has been hearing feedback because everyone is scrambling to respond to this crisis.”

Tovo said further amendments to the resolution are likely to arise following its official posting Monday.

In addition to the vote, Council is expected to receive an in-depth briefing from staff on the overall scope of short- and longer-term actions that could be taken to help small businesses either stay open or recover and reopen if they need to shut their doors while the city is enforcing limits on gatherings and commerce.

One of the main pools of money that will be drawn upon is likely the reserve fund for the city’s portion of Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue.
Council Member Ann Kitchen said some form of grants from the city will be likely for hospitality and entertainment businesses as a supplement to federal Small Business Administration loans intended to keep vulnerable businesses in operation.

“I’ve talked to a number of small businesses and one of the concerns is we have to think beyond just the closure, and think about the recovery, so we want to be in a position where we’re providing the kind of assistance that can help small business workers and give them the ability to reopen,” she said. “The (SBA) loan program won’t be helpful for everybody and so our staff is continuing to look at options. This is just the first thing out the gate.”

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