Offering a lifeline to those reeling amid a global pandemic, Burlingame officials agreed to spend $1 million on establishing programs helping local residents, businesses and nonprofits.

The Burlingame City Council agreed to build a $500,000 grant program for local businesses, while setting aside $250,000 to purchase gift cards for struggling families and donating another $250,000 to service providers.

The decision puts the finishing touches on a set of programs first discussed earlier this month, when officials agreed swift action was required to help those whose lives were disrupted by COVID-19.

Business grants

Acknowledging that many locally are struggling to acquire the federal and state payments designed to help small businesses feeling the repercussions of a stifled economy, Burlingame officials attempted to offer a local form of assistance.

The $500,000 grant initiative is designed to help retailers and professional services weather the storm with hopes that ultimately they will help the city recover sales tax revenue once the shelter-in-place order is lifted.

The program is to be administered by the San Mateo County Economic Development Association, or SAMCEDA, which is also operating a similar program through the county. Burlingame officials expressed optimism that the two local funds could supplement the availability of any state or federal money.

Noting the city’s contribution capacity is limited, Councilman Michael Brownrigg said the Burlingame Back in Business program would likely serve about 50 companies fitting a limited criteria with grants capped at about $10,000.

For his part, Councilman Ricardo Ortiz expressed his support for the idea.

“It sounds like a great program and I am really happy about it,” he said.

Gift cards

Officials also agreed to purchase about 1,000 gift cards from Visa or Mastercard worth $250 which would be distributed to families in Burlingame, with hopes the cards would be redeemed at local businesses.

Councilmembers had first discussed attempting to restrict spending to a specific zip code, but ultimately determined allowing flexibility for families who need assistance would be more valuable.

“This is meant to help the neediest families in Burlingame during a difficult time,” said Brownrigg.

Those eligible for the program will be contacted by the city’s utility provider, which maintains a list of those who qualify for financial aid. Those who apply may receive a card which can be redeemed for groceries or other goods.

Councilwoman Donna Colson suggested an incentive could be established to patronize local business by offering a discount to those who are willing to redeem the cards in Burlingame.

And while she suggested it might be more beneficial for local stores if the cards are distributed once the shelter-in-place order is lifted, Ortiz urged officials to act swiftly.

“I think we need to act sooner than later because the need is now,” he said.

Nonprofit assistance

Councilmembers also agreed to make separate $100,000 donations to both Samaritan House and HIP Housing, plus a $50,000 donation to CALL Primrose, with an intent of aiding nonprofit service providers.

The organizations can offer a wide variety of services from support to those facing housing instability to those needing assistance getting food or getting medical care and a variety of other programs.

Brownrigg lauded the initiative, while suggesting more assistance could be required down the road if the economy is slow to recover and residents continue to struggle in the wake of COVID-19.

“This could linger,” he said.

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