As Businesses Suffer, City to Offer New Aid

Local businesses ravaged by the pandemic will — with some restrictions — be able to apply to the city for grant funding to help their bottom line once the new fiscal year revs up on July 1.
Glendale plans to make available an additional $1.6 million of its own dollars to help out businesses that missed the boat on the first round of municipal grants and federal stimulus money. Additionally, the city expects to implement a $500,000 grant program aimed at assisting local art and nonprofit enterprises and is well on its way to establishing an outdoor dining program, paid for by $150,000 in local money, to nourish the town’s eateries.
The City Council discussed and committed to a direction on these economic recovery strategies at a special meeting this week, as a follow-up to a budget approval process that included the financial commitment to the measures. The first infusion, funded by a $572,500 Community Development Block Grant, will make $5,000 grants available for 114 qualifying businesses.
“We have to do something quick,” Mayor Vrej Agajanian said Tuesday. “Businesses are suffering so much. To wait, more of them are going to go and will have to close. I know $5,000 is not major or big money, but at least it may help them a little bit.”
The second round, allocated from the city’s Measure S tax revenue, is expected to mirror the CDBG money with some modifications, according to Jennifer Hiramoto, Glendale’s deputy director of community development. The city would analyze how effective distribution of the CDBG money was and modify accordingly to have the Measure S grants ready by August or September.
“That is our general recommendation right now,” said Hiramoto, who focuses on economic development issues. “Again, we may need to take a few lessons from the first phase of the CDBG program just to determine if that amount makes sense and if we need to change any of the guidelines. With the CDBG program, it is more restrictive in that there are income limitations. We’re not sure yet how many businesses will be able to apply for that.”
Businesses applying for CDBG funding will have to show that at least half of their employees fall below a certain income threshold, must be brick-and-mortar operations and must have been open for at least a year, according to Hiramoto. They also cannot have received funding from either of the two stimulus packages passed by Congress to stabilize the nation as it reeled from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In sketching a plan, city officials surveyed around 900 businesses in two rounds of polling; 37% of the businesses had applied for stimulus funding in the first package, 75% for a boost from the second. Of that 75%, only a quarter actually reported receiving relief funding.
“The bottom line, it’s just too much effort for too little funds,” Hiramoto explained. “We wanted to know that information because if we develop a grant program, there may be folks who don’t want to apply because it’s just not worth their time and effort.”
Most surveyed businesses indicated that pandemic-related health compliance and customer reconnection were chief among their concerns upon reopening. Three-quarters of the businesses expected to spend $1,000 or less on equipment and supplies to comply with new requirements, which include hand sanitizer, disinfectants and reusable masks. Nearly two-thirds said they would seek to pay operating costs or back rent with a $5,000 grant.
Hiramoto also noted the two most common sentiments expressed in the survey: “It’s one hit after another” and “This entire thing has been devastating.”
“Overall, I think what we’ve seen is, there’s despair. There are businesses in our community who are just feeling hopeless right now,” she said. “That hits home for us [in Community Development] and certainly for the City Council. The question is, ‘What can we do to support our business community and help provide some hope as we look to hopefully turn a corner on this?’”
As Agajanian lamented the urgency of the economic crisis, Councilman Dan Brotman, too, wondered if the city shouldn’t simply make both pools of grants available at once.
“I’m kind of a little bit with the mayor in the sense that maybe we don’t have the luxury of time to kind of do one and get all the experience and then do the other,” he said. “Maybe we have to kind of go in parallel? Just something to think about.”
Philip Lanzafame, director of community development, indicated it would be difficult at current staffing levels to handle processing the two sets of grant applications.
A significant portion of business recovery includes plans to beef up outreach and communication to ensure residents and business owners have clear and concise information and what is available to them and what the rules are. One universal point of agreement was that ever-changing directions from state, county and local officials only sowed confusion among business people.
Councilman Ardy Kassakhian added that the disparity of responses among each of the 50 states, in contrast to more centralized federal government responses in other nations, exacerbated anxiety and uncertainty among residents. He said the city should consider reassigning some staffers to run a dedicated emergency information hotline to help residents and business owners navigate rules and red tape.
“If that means getting people who are right now working part time or working from home to go and man telephones at the Verdugo Job Center or in our police community room and have a hotline that says we will have individuals with laptops trying to help other individuals in the city find the proper resources, I think we need to do that. It needs to happen,” he said. “We interact with government officials more than the average resident, and if we’re confused by this, you can only imagine what the average citizen is going through, and for them it has real implications. It means months of rent, wages and other things that have been sacrificed during this pandemic.”

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