Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday created a $100 million fund to provide low-interest loans to help businesses decimated by the coronavirus pandemic bounce back.
The mayor’s televised address was as much a pep-talk to frightened and shell-shocked Chicagoans—some temporarily laid off, others working from home—as it was about specifics of the city’s response.
She talked about a city rebuilt from the ashes after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and about how “resiliency and resolve are baked into our DNA.” She’s certain that Chicagoans will rise to the challenge once again even though the threat of the coronavirus is “real and growing.”
“This is our moment to prove ourselves and a nation that, in Chicago, we may get bent, but we will never be broken,” the mayor said.
For days, the mayor has promised a relief package for bars, restaurants and other small businesses forced to close by the pandemic.
It came Thursday in the form of a $100 million public-private partnership she called the “Chicago Small Business Resiliency Loan Fund.”
It’ll be comprised of a $25 million grant from the city, $50 million from the moribund but reviving Chicago Community Catalyst Fund and $10 million from the Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group. Fifth-Third Bank will contribute $1 million. Clayco Construction will kick in $250,000.
The Catalyst Fund was created by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel at the behest of former City Treasurer Kurt Summers. It went nowhere until current Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin took office and gave it a giant push.
“When we support small businesses, we support their workers who, in turn, help uplift the vibrancy of our neighborhoods,” the mayor said.
“This Fund will start with more than $100 million in targeted, low-interest loans to severely impacted small businesses. These loans are designed to provide much needed cash-flow relief for neighborhood entrepreneurs.”
Lightfoot urged others business and philanthropic leaders as well as wealthy individuals to step up and contribute to the fund.
“It is a meaningful way to help our small businesses meet payroll, avoid layoffs and survive under extraordinarily dire circumstances,” she said.
To provide another small measure of relief, the mayor extended until April 30 the due dates for city taxes on everything from hotels, restaurants, amusements and parking to bottled water and check-out bags.
Bottled water and check-out bag tax revenues are doing just fine as panicked Chicagoan hoard groceries. Hotel, restaurant, amusement and parking taxes have plummeted. Chicagoans are working from home. Bars, dine-in restaurants, movie and live theaters and music venues have been closed by state order.
“Localities like Chicago should not be shouldering this burden alone. This is a B-sized problem, meaning something that can only be solved with billions in needed stimulus support from the federal government,” Lightfoot said.
“Conventions, hotels, restaurants, bars and other forms of entertainment and services are suffering. Many have shared the immediate issues of cash shortages, concerns with making payroll, and for many, the very survival of your business is in question. We also see needs for our airlines, airports and the related businesses that depend upon air transportation every day.”
The mayor reiterated that Chicago’s diverse economy is well-positioned to weather the storm.
Then, she closed the second televised address of her ten-month tenure the way she opened it: by rallying Chicagoans suffering from cabin fever and wondering when this nightmare will end.
“While this is a time of physical isolation, we still need to stay connected. We need the warmth of smiles, hellos and thank you’s. The words of comfort and acknowledgement that each of us, regardless of station or circumstances matters,” she said.
“Gwendolyn Brooks got it right. `We are each other’s harvest. We are each other’s business. We are each other’s magnitude and bond.’ Those words are truer today than they have ever been. Our challenge is not over, and our work is not done. But we will get through this together, because we can and we must.”