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F.C. Council Hears Plans to Help City’s Vulnerable, Micro Loans for Small Businesses

BECKY WITSMAN of the City of Falls Church Economic Development Office unveiled a “micro grant” plan to the F.C. City Council for local small businesses Monday night. (Photo: News-Press)   

While contemplating City of Falls Church fiscal unknowns in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, the F.C. City Council will begin to move on a revised budget going forward at its meeting next Monday, and at its work session Monday night learned of aggressive efforts locally to help the most vulnerable citizens and smallest businesses for which even a $2,000 micro grant can make a huge difference for keeping their doors open.   

The Council will act on making $2.3 million in cuts in the coming fiscal year budget next Monday, scrapping the version proposed before the pandemic hit last month, but that will be based on a “moderate,” not “worse” forecast that will be better evaluated in the fall. In the meantime, as Housing and Human Services division head Nancy Vincent reported Monday, a mobilization is well underway to meet the needs of senior and other vulnerable citizens with an expansion of services including the delivery of three months of non-perishable food from the Capital Area Food Bank to residents of the Winter Hill Senior Apartments, expanded hotel vouchers for the City’s homeless, free Covid-19 testing at a facility in Merrifield and emergency dental care.     

City Manager Wyatt Shields has sent a letter to apartment building owners urging leniency in rent payments, and three grocery stores in the City have been contacted about providing special hours for seniors to shop.     

A team of three addressed the Council, once again convening online for health security reasons, about a plan devised to offer $2,000 micro-grants in an initial amount of $100,000 that are being crafted to provide swift if modest assistance to small businesses in the City with less than $500,000 annually in gross receipts. The City’s Economic Development Office, Becky Witsman, presented the plan, accompanied by Bob Young, chair of the Economic Development Authority and Sally Cole, executive director of the F.C. Chamber of Commerce.   

 “The business community needs to know that Falls Church cares,” Cole said, “and this is more important now than ever.” She said that even small grants can make a make-or-break difference for small businesses.     

Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly remarked that she attended a Chamber Board of Directors meeting last week and hear stories about the plight of small business owners. “Even some of the businesses we know and love have been struggling in ways we’d not imagine,” she said.     

Witsman said that the kinds of businesses that could receive critical help with his program are a lot of “ground floor commercial users, hair salons, nail salons, fitness places,” she said. “The kinds of businesses you see up and down West Broad.”     

Young said the plan is “to make it simple and above all fast.” He said informal surveys with many small businesses in the City have revealed that of all who applied for the federal Payroll Protection Plan grants and SBA disaster assistance, “Only about 10 percent of those who applied have received anything. He said that most who applied through Bank of America of Wells Fargo have found those megabanks put their biggest borrowers to the head of the line.     

“We had a couple local businesses who applied right away but then heard nothing for weeks, only to be told the money had run out,” he noted.

Witsman made it clear that the micro grant plan would not go far. “The number of small businesses in Falls Church is a big number. The 50 businesses that might benefit from this is just a tiny percentage.” Young noted that he initially proposed $250,000 for the program, and the Council concurred that making more than the initial $100,000 may be necessary.

Council member Ross Litkenhous said he likes the plan. “I love when we get scrappy and do what we can,” he said.     

It was noted that, following a Council action next Monday, the EDA might be ready to vote on the plan at a virtual meeting next week.