Massive cash infusion for Fresno, help for small businesses and renters could follow

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The city of Fresno got a huge cash infusion this week to help deal with the coronavirus crisis.

$92.7 million just went into Fresno's bank account, courtesy of the federal CARES Act, designed to help local governments through the crisis.

"Probably the single biggest check the city has received in one day," said Mayor Lee Brand.

The money comes with strings attached, but within hours, council member Esmeralda Soria saw a way to put the money to use.

She had already proposed the city find $1.5 million for community grants helping people make rent and buy food if they've lost income.

Her resolution would also add $1.5 million to the popular Save Our Small Businesses Program, which will announce about 100 forgivable loans Friday.

"The reality is that we received over 1,000 applications, so that's just 10% of businesses that applied and that qualified," said Soria. "The need is great. It is apparent. We have to do something."

But Mayor Lee Brand has spent 11 years in city government promoting cautious spending. He helped the city crawl out of a recession and build up a $35 million reserve fund for rainy days.

Now that we've reached a rainy day, he's advocating a wait-and-see approach to spending the federal stimulus cash.

"Making commitments now, unless I can be justified through this criteria for the CARES Act, would be really, in my opinion, very risky because we're gonna have to track every single dollar we have," he said.

He wants to save 80% of the stimulus money in case they can use it later to make up for lost revenue and fees, which they're already noticing after five weeks of a "shelter in place" order.

Right now, the CARES Act does not allow them to use the money that way.

Brand says he's not sure the city can use it for Soria's programs either.

The Treasury does say cities can spend the money on "second-order effects of the emergency, such as by providing economic support to those suffering from employment or business interruptions."

"So this is a qualified expense," Soria said. "We are trying to help the most vulnerable with this. In the scheme of things, it's pretty small, but I believe that we should step up and meet this moment and help families that are struggling day-to-day."

City council passed an amended version of Soria's resolution Thursday afternoon, which is just a first step, but she's hoping the city manager will identify a source of funding. Whether it's the CARES Act or not, the money will start flowing by early May.
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