OSWEGO — Elected officials in the city of Oswego say their financial future got a little brighter following passage of the federal COVID-19 relief package.
President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion relief package, commonly called the American Rescue Plan, into law on March 11. The Port City is currently set to receive $1.89 million in federal aid from the plan, according to figures released by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY. The American Rescue Plan allocates $350 billion for state and local governments.
Oswego County Legislator Tom Drumm represents portions of the city of Oswego and described the American Rescue Plan as “a really good thing for communities.”
The city spent about $275,000 on expenses related to the pandemic, including overtime, childcare services when schools shut down, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
“We’re waiting on the U.S. Treasury to come out with more concrete guidelines as to how money can be used,” said Drumm.
In the meantime, he is certain some of the federal aid will go toward replenishing county reserve funds that were used to fund these projects.
At the onset of the pandemic last March, non-essential small businesses in Oswego were forced to close their doors and cease in-person sales for months due to COVID-19 regulations. Despite this, the city surprisingly did not experience a decrease in sales tax revenues.
“It’s really a credit to them at how quickly they transformed how they do business,” said Drumm of the adaptation to the pandemic by small businesses in Oswego.
Nathan Emmons is the director of economic development for the city of Oswego and also serves on the Oswego County Legislature. He said online sales “went through the roof,” during the pandemic.
“Small businesses updated their online presences, or came online for the first time,” Emmons said.
Last March, Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow and Emmons’ economic development office launched the “COVID-19 Emergency Business Loan Relief Program” which provided immediate relief for small businesses in the city, as well as assistance to businesses for their operational expenses during the pandemic.
At the time of the launch of the loan relief program, Emmons and other city officials did not know how long the pandemic would last and the loan program was intended to “bridge them through what we thought was a month, or maybe eight weeks,” according to Emmons.
“It helped to bridge a gap, but only lasted for so long,” he said.
Twenty-five small businesses were ultimately funded through the city loan program, receiving $10,000 each.
Federal aid from the American Rescue Plan will allow the city to cancel those loans, and Barlow announced the loan forgiveness on social media on March 25.
“I believe the funding should go back to the people, particularly those who stepped up to serve their community during the pandemic, like our front line workers,” said Barlow in a television interview. “That’s why, if allowed, we’ll use some of this funding to administer our ‘Heroes as Neighbors’ program.”
The “Heroes as Neighbors” program, announced by the mayor in his January State of the City address, will cover the up to $5,000 in closing costs on a home in the city through a partnership with Pathfinder Bank. The program serves to thank front-line workers and encourage them to live in the city. Eligible participants in the program include first responders, active military members and frontline workers.
In addition, Barlow intends to allocate funding for “upcoming, critical water infrastructure projects” and “to directly assist local small businesses who suffered from the shutdown.”
Oswego city officials expect to receive the federal aid in an initial lump sum of funding, followed by stages and could receive money through the plan in six months to a year after the initial amount is delivered.
Both Drumm and Emmons expressed optimism for the future of the city of Oswego, and overwhelming gratitude for the work of local front-line workers throughout the pandemic.
“The credit goes to the people on the front lines,” said Drumm.
Emmons echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the cooperative, community-wide effort that has gotten the city of Oswego through the challenges presented by COVID-19. Stimulus checks of $1,400 are also available for most Americans through the plan. To find out if you’re eligible to receive a check, visit the IRS website.