The Union Democrat

Contract awarded for gift card program

- By ALEX MACLEAN The Union Democrat

A contractor was unanimousl­y selected by the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisor­s on Tuesday to implement a program that will give people an opportunit­y at getting an extra $100 in federal COVID-19 relief funds to spend exclusivel­y at local businesses this holiday season.

The board approved a contract for Modesto Improvemen­t Partnershi­p, Inc., a nonprofit organizati­on, to create a digital app where people can purchase electronic gift cards for $25, $50, $75, or $100.

Whichever amount someone purchased would then be matched equally by the county, with the maximum being $100 per person, at participat­ing businesses who sign up to be part of the program at no cost to them.

For example, someone who purchases a $100 card would get $200 to spend at any business within the county that has signed up to participat­e.

“The intent has been really to get that money back to our local businesses that saw a loss through COVID-19,” Assistant County Administra­tor Eric Erhardt explained at the public meeting where the board awarded the contract on Tuesday.

An exact date for when the program will launch and people can begin purchasing has yet to be announced, but county staff said they “will begin working immediatel­y with the contractor” to get the program up and running in time for the holiday shopping season.

In September, the board approved spending $500,000 out of the more than $10 million the county received from the federal American Rescue Plan COVID-19 relief bill on the gift card program as a way to help businesses and individual­s economical­ly hurt by the pandemic.

An additional $15,000 was provided by outside groups, including $7,500 from the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau, $5,000 from the Sonora Area Foundation, and $2,500 from Pacific Gas and Elec

tric Co., for a total of $515,000.

The contract gives 11.5% of the total to the Modesto Improvemen­t Partnershi­p Inc., for administra­tion fees, leaving $455,775 of total for matching gift card funds that will be doled out on a first-come, first-served basis. That’s enough for 4,557 cards at $100 apiece.

Some county supervisor­s expressed concern about whether the money could be spent at large chain stores or other businesses owned by corporatio­ns outside of the county, but Erhardt said the intent was for it to benefit only small, locally owned businesses.

“I don’t want to see franchises that go all the way from here to New York get this money,” County Supervisor Kathleen Haff said. “I want to see it spent locally and stay locally.”

Erhardt cited language in the contract that stated examples of businesses the program is designed to support include “restaurant­s without drive-thrus, theaters, boutique retailers and beauty salons.”

The Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce and other local business groups will also help sign up businesses and ensure they fall within the program’s intent, Erhardt said, adding that the county will also be provided with a list of the businesses participat­ing.

County Supervisor Jaron Brandon expressed concern that visitors could also purchase the gift cards, which he feared would potentiall­y mean some local residents could miss out.

Erhardt noted that visitors purchasing them would be bringing outside dollars to the county and part of the intent was to help boost tourism, while County Supervisor David Goldemberg noted they could only be spent at businesses within the county.

“Regardless of who buys the cards, our businesses will benefit,” Goldemberg said.

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