City council defers proposal to double grant funding cap

Coronavirus New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – An Albuquerque city councilor’s plan to increase funding for struggling local businesses is on hold for now, after getting plenty of push back from other councilors.

Some businesses that applied for grant money through the Small Business Economic Relief Grant Program aren’t qualifying because they’re capped at $10,000. Monday night, Councilor Lan Sena’s resolution to double that cap was pushed back.

Albuquerque’s Economic Development Department got nearly 600 applications last week for the first round of grants. It gives up to $10,000 in federal money from the CARES Act to small businesses and locally-owned franchises. “We’ll be able to make sure that approximately 1,000 businesses will be helped,” City Councilor Brook Bassan explained.

About 115 first-round applicants don’t qualify for the help because they’ve already received relief funds from other sources like the state or county, and can only get funding up to an aggregate amount of $10,000. That’s why Councilor Sena introduced a resolution boosting that grant cap to $20,000 per business.

“So they don’t have to get disqualification letters, so they won’t be discouraged to act on it later because if they’re given a letter, I don’t know if they’ll be encouraged to apply later on,” Sena explained at Monday’s city council meeting.

“My department has received over 100 phone calls from businesses that were concerned immediately,” Economic Development Director Synthia Jaramillo added. “The problem with the aggregate amount that exists today is that having to cross-reference all grant programs- we truly don’t have the capacity.”

In a statement, Cake Fetish Co-Owner Kendall Harris said, in part, that she supports the resolution because she wants to see small businesses stay afloat. She also added most don’t make a profit while operating at 25% under the current public health order.

Other city councilors on Monday had their hesitations, saying it might disadvantage other businesses that have yet to get any help. “We’re changing the rules in the middle of the game,” Councilor Cynthia Borrego said.

“We have thousands I’m sure who need help and $10,000 is a big help. To jump to $20,000 would put ourselves in a position where people who have already received numbers will go ahead of the people who don’t have any yet,” Councilor Trudy Jones added.

The majority of councilors voted to push back a final vote until at least Nov.16 after the second round of grant applications. “If we can have just a little bit more time to see how many applications come through, we can reevaluate whether we need to continue on or not,” Bassan stated.

For now, Councilor Sena still wants people who have already reached the cap to apply. “Just so we can get a general sense of what that need is, where the community is at,” Sena added.

The grantees are awarded on a first-come-first-served basis. To qualify, one can’t have more than 50 employees, has to have been in business for at least a year, and proves its economic hardship because of the pandemic.

The second round of applications will be open Nov. 9-13 and the grants would be funded by Dec. 30.

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