Monday, May 4, 2020 by Chad Swiatecki

Loan forgiveness, grants highlight recommendations to Council for economic recovery

The Economic Prosperity Commission has given City Council a list of suggested new programs and financial practices that are designed to assist low-income residents and small businesses most impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

At last week’s meeting the commission voted 8-0 to approved the 13 recommendations, which are focused around forgiveness of city loans made to small businesses, establishing new loan and grant programs, offering housing and other services to essential workers and nonprofit organizations, and making innovation a priority of workforce training efforts involving the city.

Those moves would come in addition to steps already taken by the city to stabilize the local economy and enhance public health resources in response to the virus’ spread throughout the area in March.

So far the city has allocated $15 million in emergency reserves for food aid, rent stipends and other direct assistance for vulnerable residents, and recently provided $2.5 million to assist artists and musicians who were severely impacted by the cancellation of the South by Southwest festival.

The city is also in line to receive $150 million in funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that will reimburse local expenses related to economic recovery and health care measures. This week City Council is expected to approve initial guidelines that will give staff direction on how best to use the federal dollars, which will lead to the creation of programs and related budget amendments in the coming months.

The measure also provides direction and some ideas for monitoring the distribution of city dollars related to the recovery, to make sure they are dispersed equitably and to evaluate the effectiveness of different programs for future use.

The commission’s recommendations, which were crafted by an economic recovery working group, were based in large part by five principles of Covid-19 recovery that were recently agreed upon by a consortium of international organizations.

Those principles are: health as a top priority; providing relief directly to people; prioritizing rescue workers and communities over corporate interests; creating a regenerative economy that can help prevent future crises; and protecting the democratic process.

Commissioner Nathan Ryan said the five guidelines along with the concepts in the city’s strategic direction for 2023 helped to outline the framework for determining how to use the city’s limited resources.

“This kind of guides the way we’ve been thinking about the rest of the other 11 recommendations that fall into this. In a loose way we hope it guides future recommendations that have to do with Covid-19,” he said. “Obviously not all of them are the kind of thing we have direct jurisdiction over … but I still think these are some good principles to keep in mind and they did shape the way we were thinking about direct relief, loan forgiveness and grant conversion because there’s a focus from our perspective on how do you free up capital at the business level to go back to people.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

COVID-19

Economic Prosperity Commission: According to the city website, City Council created the Economic Prosperity Commission "to advise the council on matters related to construction and job creation. The Commission should include representatives from trade and business associations and chambers of commerce."

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