Memphis City Council reallocated $9.9 million of the city’s remaining CARES Act funding Tuesday but some disagreed on a residency requirement for some business owners.
The Trump Administration issued an extension on the funding, which was supposed to end December 2020, to the end of 2021. So, the city has more time to distribute the money to businesses, first responders, education, and more.
Shirley Ford, chief financial officer for the city of Memphis, asked to approve reallocation of that $9.9 million. Some of this money would be used for testing and administering the COVID-19 vaccine, while $2 million would go to hazard pay for level one employees from January through March.
An additional $1.2 million would be set for a stabilization grant for 78 business applications that includes some restaurants and other small businesses. She also asked for approval for $1 million to be added for an emergency relief program to be allocated through the vendor of council members’ choice.
“We approved $500,000 of the CARES Act funding that was allocated to businesses that may be located in Memphis but their owners reside outside of the city,” said council member Martavius Jones. “Of this $1.2 million and of the 78 applicants, are there any restrictions as to where the business owner lives?”
Ken Moody, special assistant to Mayor Jim Strickland, said the grant was for anyone who owned a business in the city of Memphis, no matter where they live. The previous CARES Act allocation to businesses limited grants to $120,000 for business owners who lived outside Memphis. Jones wanted to keep it that way in the current round of grant-making.
Only a total of 10 percent of the Memphis City CARES Act funding could go to counties outside of the city limits. This would mean that business owners who live in Shelby County would receive a fraction of that which those who live within Memphis city limits would. However, Shelby County received its own CARES Act funding for which they can apply.
Council member Chase Carlisle said this logic sounded “arbitrary.”
“The idea is to keep businesses open … it’s like we’re gonna punish someone because they don’t live here,” Carlisle said. “This program isn’t enriching somebody, it’s literally allowing them to keep their doors open so they can employ people in Memphis. So, where the owner resides has no impact on the restaurant operations for the retail operations in which we may employ people.”
Jones rebutted, “I was not elected by anybody outside of the city of Memphis. “So, my first priority will always be — and I will never make any apologies for advocating for — Memphis.”
Council member Michalyn Easter-Thomas supported Jones, noting it was a move to continue the process the council had already approved. Council member Dr. Jeff Warren worried it may hurt businesses and that “what was good for us then may not be good for us now.”
“It just makes sense to give it to them because we don’t have data … if that’s 40 percent people living outside of Memphis or 5 percent,” Warren said. “But we do know that they’re employing Memphians who are paying taxes.”
The committee voted against Jones’ grant-making procedure and the full council approved the overall reallocation of the $9.9 million in CARES Act funding.