In an attempt to address the effects, Long Beach City Council debated for almost two hours on different aspects of a 158-page economic relief package Tuesday, on top of a handful of other recommendations.
“It is becoming clear that dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath will be the defining challenge facing Long Beach for at least the next year, or even beyond,” Councilmember Mary Zendejas said.
The relief package is made up of responses to various requests from city councilmembers from their March 17 meeting, a week and a half after California declared a statewide emergency.
Although some policies came with recommendations from City Manager Tom Modica, others were reliant on the deliberation of councilmembers.
The meeting, which took place via teleconference, echoed with the voice of Mayor Robert Garcia, pleading for members to mute their microphones while others spoke.
Although some issues were tabled for future meetings, councilmembers did agree on a few key policies.
Mandatory sick leave for employees at large businesses
Businesses with 500 or more employees will be required to provide 80 hours of paid COVID-19-related sick leave.
According to the city manager’s report, this order will affect seven private employers and 13,500 workers within Long Beach city limits.
Businesses with less than 500 employees are already covered by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which became federal law on March 14 of this year.
Creation of Hospitality Recovery Task Force
According to the Long Beach Business Journal, hospitality is the second largest job sector in Long Beach, with a $1.8 billion economic impact on the city in 2019.
In order to maintain the strength of this sector post-COVID-19, the city council unanimously passed a recommendation to create a Hospitality Recovery Task Force.
The task force will develop strategies for the recovery of visitors, business travel, leisure tourism and overnight room stays once the stay-at-home order is lifted.
Microloan program introduced to support small businesses
This new policy will allow the city council to make loans of $10,000 or less to Long Beach microbusinesses with five employees or less.
The adjustments to the loan policy gives these businesses up to seven years to pay back the loans, which have no initial fee and a cap on interest.
Typically, microbusinesses are unable to secure small business loans, said Economic Development Director John Keisler.
“This allows the city to make a lot more loans to local small businesses,” Keisler said. “And fills an important gap for both for-profit and nonprofit microbusinesses in the city of Long Beach.”
The city has operated a revolving loan fund program since the Los Angeles Riots of 1991, when it received a $1 million initial grant from the federal Economic Development Administration, according to Kiesler. Since then, the city has provided $10 million worth of loans through the initial grant.
“Right of return” for hospitality and janitorial employees laid-off or furloughed during COVID-19
This policy allows laid-off workers to be given hiring preference when businesses are stable enough to begin re-hiring. This way, they’ll be able to return to their jobs without fear of being replaced by new workers.
Incentives already exist for employers who retain their workers. Modica explained that employee retention can lead to forgivable grants and tax credits for businesses.
The future of these policies
Councilmembers considered sunsetting the policies 90 days after the statewide emergency proclamation ends.
“We know that this emergency is not based on economics, but health,” Councilmember Jeannine Pearce said.
After much deliberation, councilmembers agreed to receive a report on the situation every 90 days until no longer needed. As the situation changes, they’ll be able to adjust the policies as needed.
“[City staff] are really looking at ways to ensure that we really focus on bouncing back and reopening this economy that we know we have to do, when we’re ready, when it’s safe to do so,” Garcia said. “While at the same time, taking care of workers and our small businesses and making sure folks are protected.”
Long Beach City Council will discuss the remaining portions of the economic relief package at next week’s meeting.
The next city council meeting will take place via teleconference on Tuesday, April 21.