County agrees to fund small business retention grants

Hays County Commissioner on Friday agreed to allocate $500,000 from the general fund to use as grants to micro-businesses who aren’t likely to recover from a six-week closure forced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

They could not come to terms, however, on what businesses would be eligible, what the money could be used for and how the grants would be administered.

The agenda item for the special meeting was to declare an emergency for small business retention. It’s not the first such effort in the county — the Buda Economic Development Corporation launched the “Still Budaful” stimulus program weeks ago to assist small businesses negatively affected by the coronavirus.

As a first draft, commissioners were given a document prepared by the Greater San Marcos Partnership (GSMP) that would make eligible businesses with 10 or fewer full-time equivalent employees who make at least $12 per hour.

That threshold drew concerns from County Judge Ruben Becerra and Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe. “There are businesses that employ people that don’t make over $12 an hour and they need the help too,” Ingalsbe said. Becerra said he could find such a business walking one block from the courthouse in any direction. “I am not comfortable telling them unless everyone is making more than $12 an hour, you don’t qualify.”

Ingalsbe also took issue with the number of employees. “I came in here thinking it’s wonderful we’re going to provide assistance to those businesses that have less than 10 full-time employees,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to think we’re not trying to look out for those minority businesses. I am a minority. It’s important to me.”

Whether a business would have to be a member of a chamber of commerce also came up. Pct. 4 Commissioner Walt Smith said he had already talked to GSMP President Jason Giulietti about not requiring chamber membership in order to be eligible for the grants.

Becerra suggested some of the funds go to testing for micro-business employees before their shops reopen. “Getting back to work with people still not knowing where they are in regard to COVID-19 is still very scary,” he said. If employees had access to testing, it could establish a “baseline” to “build that comfort level to go back to work.”

Smith disagreed, saying the decision of who to test should be left to medical professionals and accused Becerra of “tying” testing to getting a grant was “short-sighted,” as employees could test negative one day and be infected the next. “It might create a false sense of them being OK.”

Becerra said he wasn’t tying the one to the other, but just trying to help shops open. “As we facilitate money, I want to facilitate testing,” he said.

Becerra also initially said he had expected a “final document” but agreed to funding and “moving forward” with a framework.

“Let’s give some of these businesses hope,” said Pct. 2 Commissioner Mark Jones.
The court meets next on Tuesday, May 12, and Ingalsbe suggested the discussion resume then.

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