In the beginning, there was the spreadsheet. Employees, staff, and council members came together virtually to brainstorm nearly 70 ideas of what to do with the $274,000 provided to the City of Yelm through the federal CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act).

The City of Yelm’s General Government Committee decided to re-invest half of the federal funds from the CARES Act back into the economy through grants to local businesses and support for individuals and families. Photo courtesy: City of Yelm

One possibility was using the entire amount to cover costs incurred by the city through maintaining services during COVID-19, but that was never a serious consideration. “We could have demonstrated the need as a municipality, but early on we decided to take half that money and put it directly back into the economy,” says Yelm Mayor JW Foster.

Ultimately, the city’s General Government Committee opted to support the community in two ways: $109,620 to a new business grant program to relieve local businesses, and $27,405 toward funding for Yelm residents through the Yelm Community Relief Fund, a partnership between Foster and his wife Nicki, Tumwater-based nonprofit TOGETHER!  and America’s Credit Union (ACU). “We looked at what was needed to pay the city’s expenses, then took the remaining balance and tried to come up with the biggest bang for our buck in terms of helping citizens and our local businesses,” says Tad Stillwell, a city council member who serves on the committee.

Over 50 local businesses have already applied for the grant program, which provides up to $2,500 in grant funds. The most common challenge for many has been expenses that continued while revenue streams did not. “Some were successful in getting grants through the Paycheck Protection Program, but others had little to no relief,” says Foster. “They still had to pay those bills. $2,500 can really help with those basic costs.”

Many businesses have been unable to get other forms of support to help them weather the shutdown caused by COVID-19 which makes the city’s support even more important. Photo courtesy: City of Yelm

The program has seen considerable demand from small businesses that aren’t considered essential. “The hardest hit have been places like nail salons and hair salons,” says city council member EJ Curry, another member of the General Government Committee. “There are also restaurants that haven’t been able to open at all. Those types of businesses have been decimated by the whole shutdown.”  At least one employer has opted to use grant funds to pay his employees while the company is unable to operate.

Businesses have been appreciative, especially of the fact that the funds are in the form of a grant rather than a loan. “A lot of people found that when they applied for PPL loans, the money was gone before they even got their paperwork in,” says Stillwell. “They’re grateful for the help and appreciate that the city cares and we’re being good stewards of the federal money. We’ve made it easy to get and it comes quickly.” Businesses can fill out this application to apply for a grant.

For families and individuals, the Yelm Community Relief Fund has been helping with living expenses of up to $500 per month per family plus supporting local programs like the Yelm Rotary Club’s 10 Weeks of Summer and Help Us Move In, INC. (HUMI), a national program dedicated to preventing families from being evicted or becoming homeless.

The city staff hope that the investment in the community will help small businesses stay afloat until they can fully re-open. Photo courtesy: City of Yelm

Anyone can make a donation to the program through America’s Credit Union. TOGETHER! then uses their existing systems to help applicants pay costs for housing, phone and internet, utilities, and transportation. “TOGETHER! looks at your application and if you can demonstrate that you couldn’t fully pay your rent or utility bill, the fund will pay it for you,” Foster explains. “We’ve given away over $15,000 so far and we’d like to see more people apply for help to that program.”

Transportation has been a challenge for many Yelm residents who rely on Intercity Transit to reach where they need to go. When the bus line shut down its service due to COVID-19, they were left scrambling to find alternative ways to get into town. For senior citizens, the situation is especially dire. “Usually, they have people who pick them up and take them shopping once or twice a week,” says Curry. “When that doesn’t happen, they don’t get any socialization and they don’t get their groceries or medications unless someone goes and picks those up for them.” The Community Relief Fund also provides gas vouchers for those who need them.

Although it’s still difficult to make any projections about when the economy might fully re-open, Curry hopes the support from the city will help businesses hold on. “Now that we’ve gotten into Phase 3, this is a way to give them a little ease so that they’ll be able to continue to function,” she says. “The General Government Committee is putting our focus on helping businesses stay strong and healthy and to navigate this whole crisis until they can be back and fully operational.”

Learn more by visiting the City of Yelm’s website.

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