Led by Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, the program aims to help businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic by offering zero-interest, forgivable loans up to $25,000 to meet ordinary and necessary operating expenses and obligations.
"Obviously, we can't bail out our entire county's economy-we can't. We're not set up for that," County Judge Lina Hidalgo said during the meeting. "That's why the federal government is trying, and as we all assess their package and read the analysis, we know that it'll be hard depending on how deep this crisis goes for any level of government to fully bail out the economy. That's why it's so important for folks to stay home so we can get over this quickly and turn the economy back on."
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Precincts 3 and 4 Commissioners Steve Radack and Jack Cagle requested voting be delayed on the item until the next court meeting, citing concerns about some of the unknowns still surrounding the program.
"I understand the need for speed, but if we're talking about a program that has a forgiveness component to it, which makes it ultimately a grant, is this not something we could bring back in a week so that we could have some public input on that component?" Cagle asked. "I'm in favor of having the loans to our businesses. I'm supportive of the H-GAC component, but I've got some serious concerns on that one aspect."
WATCH: Commissioner Garcia explains how small business owners can apply for loan
However, the motion failed, and the program was approved in a split 3-2 vote, with Radack and Cagle dissenting.
"We still don't know whether we will be reimbursed by the federal government; I'm hopeful that we'll find ways to accomplish that," Garcia said. "But in the end, you keep people employed; you keep their doors open; you allow them to continue to pay their rent-those are all things that come back to our bottom line."
According to Garcia, the $10 million in loans will be split equally among the four county precincts, and eligible businesses will be able to apply for the program through the H-GAC website. The county will also look into incorporating components such as low to moderate income and equity as part of business eligibility.
"This is local taxpayers' money," Radack said before voting against the item. "We don't have a right to just give it away, especially without clear specifics and guidelines. As far as I'm concerned, this action discriminates against hundreds of thousands of Harris County taxpayers and citizens."
Here are the eligibility requirements:
- Must be a business located in Harris County
- Business must have been in operation on or before January 1, 2019
- Property taxes must be in good standing as per the Harris County Tax Office
- Must provide evidence of how business revenue has been and/or will be negatively impacted because of government restrictions or other challenges due to COVID-19
- A business qualifies if it has a tangible net worth not more than $15 million, and an average net income of $5 million or less after federal income taxes for the preceding two years prior to application
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