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More than $5 million in loans, grants approved to help Bexar County businesses through pandemic

Bexar County Commissioners approve contract for Lift Fund to administer programs

San Antonio – Bexar County Commissioners approved $5.25 million worth of loans and grants on Tuesday to help local small businesses that have lost money because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The $5 million worth of loans would be for up to $25,000 with deferred payments and zero interest, while an additional $250,000 worth of grants would be distributed in chunks of up to $5,000 - enough money to help at least 250 businesses.

“We know businesses and families are hurting and are doing their best to navigate and overcome economic hardship as a result of COVID-19,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Justin Rodriguez, who put forward the program. “The purpose of this partnership is to provide our small businesses financial relief to help them get through this difficult time.”

Both the loans and grant will be administered by LiftFund, which will receive $400,000 for administrative costs over four years, bringing the total cost of the program to $5.65 million.

The goal of the loans and grants isn’t to make sure a business owner is “whole,” said Bexar County Economic and Community Development Executive Director David Marquez, but rather to ensure their employees can keep their jobs.

“So they want to show that they’re going to demonstrate that they can continue to keep their staff on line. And then maybe it’s doing different tasks. Maybe it’s - or do salary - but something that helps the employees stay employed.”

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Marquez also expects there will be more demand than money.

“This is a stop-gap measure to kind of get us through, to put something out there early to start to help companies now, give them confidence that we’re gonna be providing programs that will help the economy keep going,” Marquez said. “The federal dollars will start to flow. The state dollars will start to flow. But we felt it was important - the county - to get something out quickly.”

The grants are intended for micro-businesses with five or fewer employees, and the loans are intended for those with 10 or fewer. The county will rely on LiftFund to let them know who’s applying though, Marquez said

“Obviously, if we’re seeing a bunch of them that have 15 or whatever - 15 employees - we can adjust. But our goal is to get those that are at 10 or less because they’re the backbone of the economy and particularly on the poorer parts of town,” Marquez said.

Northwest Side gym owner Tabitha Ortega said she plans to apply for a grant, at least, after government orders meant to help halt the spread of COVID-19 shut down the Transformation Station.

Her three part- and full-time trainers are normally paid for the classes and private lessons they teach. With the gym closed, they’ve switched to posting workouts online and hosting private lessons over FaceTime.

While Ortega said she has continued to keep paying the trainers, ultimately, paying the bills to keep the gym open takes priority, and membership cancellations have already started.

However, the grant or loan money could help her pay the instructors so she still has a gym and a workforce to staff it at the end fo the pandemic.

“It might be able to get them a salary base pay - what they would normally be making - to also keep them going,” Ortega said.

While nonprofit organizations could also apply for the loans, Marquez said they are targeting for-profit businesses.

“We can do other things with the not-for-profits directly, that we can’t do with a for-profit business,” Marquez said.

As loans are repaid in installments, the money would be available again for more businesses over the next four years, Marquez said.

Businesses looking to apply can find more information on the Lift Fund website, which Marquez said should be live Tuesday, or by calling 888-215-2373.

COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new virus, stands for coronavirus disease 2019. The disease first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, but spread around the world in early 2020, causing the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic in March.

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