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City of Birmingham responds to COVID-19 with $4M in emergency funds

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The Birmingham City Council approved Mayor Randall L. Woodfin’s request to provide $4 million to fund police, fire, public works and a stimulus program for small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Erica Wright, The Birmingham Times)
By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times

The Birmingham City Council on Tuesday approved Mayor Randall L. Woodfin’s request to provide $4 million to fund police, fire, public works and a stimulus program for small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funding includes $2.6 million in overtime for police, fire and public works; $880,000 for additional technology for city employees to work from home; $547,133 in supplies for first responders; and $1 million for the Birmingham Strong Fund to support small businesses.

“This is an important message to the people of Birmingham,” Woodfin said. “Through this funding, we are committed to providing a full response to COVID-19 with our police, fire and public works. Also, we have taken the first important step to launch an economic stimulus plan for our small businesses struggling during this pandemic.”

The council also approved another $9.2 million to address the estimated budget shortfall for the next 60 days.

The small business emergency loan fund, or BhamStrong Fund, is designed to provide zero-interest, 180-day loans to small businesses (less than 50 employees) of no more than $25,000 (with an average loan size of $10,000) to prevent staff reductions and offset losses related to COVID-19.

Last week, the mayor announced the city’s Office of Innovation and Economic Opportunity (IEO) would create the economic resilience fund. In addition to the council’s $1 million, the city identified an additional $200,000 for the fund.

“Small businesses are the lifeblood of our community and the backbone of our economy, they are the pride of our neighborhoods and many of them are feeling under siege,” said Josh Carpenter, Director of the city’s Office of Innovation and Economic Opportunity. “Small businesses depend on a variety of things including events, foot traffic and the economic vitality.”

The city has 5,997 small businesses with an estimated 47,000 workers and the goal is to provide stability for the small business owners, their workers and their families during the economic fallout from the pandemic, he said. Some businesses have temporarily closed, some have canceled or postponed revenue generating events and many have lost customers.

The Birmingham Business Resource Center, led by executive director Bob Dickerson, will administer the funds to businesses with less than 50 employees over a 30 to 60 day period, Carpenter said.

The council’s support for the businesses could be a beginning, he said.

“We think we can get another $1.2 million from the private sector so we can inject $2.4 million total into our small business economy,” said Carpenter. “We believe that will help us endure through this difficult period.”

Those worried about their small businesses can visit www.bhamstrong.com.

For additional updates from the city about COVID-19, visit www.birminghamal.gov/coronavirus or text BHMCOVID to 888-777. A Spanish language update system is available by texting BHMCOVID19 to 888-777.

In other coronavirus-related news Tuesday, the Jimmie Hale Mission in Birmingham announced changes to types of food that can be delivered to those in need.

The organization said it will not accept prepared food deliveries, except from authorized supply services, until further notice. Volunteers are not allowed to bring homemade meals, items from restaurants or use delivery services.

The Mission is still accepting non-perishable items like boxed and canned goods. Those items can be left outside of the facility’s doors to reduce face-to-face contact.

“We are so grateful for the volunteers who have remained committed to assisting our clients even during this health crisis,” said executive director Michael Coleman. “. . . while the food that individuals donate is essential to how we operate as an organization, we feel this is a necessary step to take at this time.”

This announcement comes after the Mission said Monday all volunteer activities were temporarily suspended, besides “Nourish the Needy” at Jessie’s Place. As of Tuesday morning, that program was also suspended.