San Diego County expands small business loan program to include city businesses

San Diego County supervisors unanimously agreed on Tuesday, Sept. 29, to expand the county’s $5 million small business COVID relief program regionally to small businesses operating in cities.

In late April, supervisors initially set up the loan program to help businesses in unincorporated areas that are struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The program had $5 million to allocate, but nearly $1 million has been loaned out so far.

At the time, only businesses in unincorporated areas with fewer than 50 employees could qualify for loans, which can be up to $50,000 with up to 2% interest. Loans must be repaid within two years.

However, with Tuesday’s action, all eligible small businesses in San Diego County — including those operating in cities — can now apply for the loans.

So far, the program has provided 27 businesses with loans totaling $827,000, and four more businesses are closing loans totaling $125,000, according to county documents.

County supervisors said Tuesday that the currently unallocated $4 million will provide significant relief to many other businesses.

“It makes sense to open it up to other businesses in the area,” said supervisor Dianne Jacob, who co-authored the proposal with supervisor Jim Desmond. “Businesses are still hurting and could use another lifeline to get through this pandemic.”

Businesses operating in unincorporated areas will continue to be given priority.

The expansion of the small business loan program is one of many steps supervisors have taken in recent months to help small businesses during the pandemic.

Earlier this summer, county supervisors implemented a stimulus grant program using a portion of leftover CARES Act funds from the federal stimulus package. This program gives each of the county’s five supervisors $3.4 million to distribute in grants, as well as $700,000 each to focus on restaurants.

So far more than $14.5 million in grants have been distributed, helping thousands of businesses.

In early August, the board also unanimously adopted a proposal to streamline the application process and waiving permit fees, so places of worship and gymnasiums that cannot operate indoors under public health restrictions can reserve space in county parks.

Many cities in the region have also stepped up their loan and grant programs targeting small businesses.

In late March, the city of San Diego approved a $6.1 million relief package including grants and loans – from $10,000 to $20,000 – for city businesses with 100 or fewer workers, while the city of San Marcos has set aside $3 million for a business sustainability loan program.

In April, the city of Poway created a $2 million business loan program for businesses with 50 or fewer full-time employees, and the city of Coronado chose to draw $2 million from its reserves to support a “Lifeline Business Loan Program.”

—Charles T. Clark is a reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune

Aurora J. William