The Fighting Chance Fund, an initiative by the city of St. Petersburg to provide emergency relief during the Covid-19 pandemic, gave out $6.2 million in grants to help hundreds of businesses and individuals between early April and mid-August.
The fund was launched in April with $6.8 million and received additional philanthropic contributions, but city officials aren’t yet ready to recommend how the fund balance should be used, Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin told St. Petersburg City Council members Thursday.
“All of the science and our work in our operations emergency center tells us to be vigilant and watch out for a round two of Covid that might cause disruption. We hope that doesn’t happen but should it happen we want to be in a position where we can respond to our community as nimbly as we were able to in the first round,” Tomalin said.
Council member Brandi Gabbard suggested using the remaining funds to help residents pay mortgage, rent and utility bills. Tomalin said the city currently has $3.2 million available for mortgage and utility assistance.
Council members heard a wrap up on the Fighting Chance Fund operations during their online meeting.
“The Fighting Chance fund came up as an idea when it immediately became apparent that as a government we were going to have to ask business owners to close their businesses and send their employees home. That sent our small business community reeling in a tailspin, with so much uncertainty and so much doubt. The sense of urgency to be there for them was palpable and there were no programs in place. It wasn’t clear that the government was going to help or that Pinellas CARES was going to be there. We just had to get these funds into people’s hands as quickly as possible,” Tomalin said.
Jessica Eilerman, Greenhouse manager and small business liaison to the office of the mayor, described the three phases of the program.
Phase 1, April 9-28, provided support to the smallest, locally owned and independently operated brick and mortar restaurants, bars, retail and service-based businesses and to individuals in those industries.
A total of 355 businesses each got $5,000 grants, and 669 individuals got $500 grants.
Phase 2, April 30-June 16, was expanded to include travel agencies and tour operators, co-working and shared leased spaces. The business owner residency requirement was removed.
A total of 414 businesses each got $5,000 grants in Phase 2, and 327 individuals got $500 grants.
Phase 3, June 23-Aug. 14, was expanded again to include home-based businesses and opened to all industry types. Independently owned franchises and independent contractors also were eligible. The workforce program for individuals was not included in Phase 3.
In Phase 3, 343 brick & mortar businesses each got $4,000 grants, and 248 home-based businesses got $2,000 grants.
The grants were spread city-wide, Eilerman said.
The city sent out a followup survey for fund recipients on Wednesday. In the first 24 hours, the city got nearly 400 responses, Eilerman said.
Local businesses’ top areas of concern remain a new wave of Covid-19 infections, the long-term financial impacts including the effect on staffing, and operational costs such as uncertainty about leases and mortgages and keeping customers and staff safe.
Going forward, programs that would help local businesses should center on finance, lease and mortgage assistance, and marketing and awareness, early survey results showed.
The Fighting Chance Fund provided a new way to manage city grants and incentive programs, and the city will move all grants onto the platform, Eilerman said. The city also has been invited to make a presentation about the fund at the International City/County Management Association conference next week, she said.