[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a verified resident. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Waterland Blog, nor its staff:]

Councilmember Martinelli Puts Forth Pandemic Relief Proposals

Below are several policy proposals I have put forward in order to help provide relief to businesses, individuals and families during the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposals that require funding could be paid for through incoming state and federal relief funds and through our general fund (which sits at nearly $5 million).

If you support any or all of these proposals, and would like the full council to consider them, please consider e-mailing all seven members at [email protected].

Establish a Grant Program for Small Businesses
I propose establishing a $400,000 fund which would be used to provide grants to small businesses in Des Moines. Small businesses would be defined as having less than 50 employees. Businesses with 50 or more employees could still apply for the grant but would need to prove financial hardship.

This fund would allow us to distribute grants of $7,500 to over 50 Des Moines-based businesses. I have spoken with many business owners who have said that this would have a huge positive impact, including allowing them to retain and pay employees.

The city could establish an independent third party to distribute the grants to prevent any conflict of interests among the city and city council.

I recognize that $400,000 is a lot of money especially during a pandemic, but businesses are the backbone of our community and we need to do everything we can – within reason – to help keep them open and retain their employees. Doing so will help the local economy and help prevent a dip in businesses taxes which is a considerable part of our annual revenue stream.

Raise the Minimum Wage for Essential Workers
Many essential workers are receiving nothing more than minimum wage despite having to work through a deadly pandemic, I propose increasing the minimum wage for essential workers, as defined by the state, to $14.50 – a $1 increase. This minimum wage increase would be permanent, given “essential workers” will remain “essential” even after the pandemic.

I propose applying this only to businesses with at least 50 employees, in order to prevent potential harm to small businesses who may have trouble at the moment increasing wages. By setting the limit to 50 this proposal would primarily effect big businesses such as Safeway and McDonald’s.

A $14.50 minimum wage would still put us nearly $2 an hour below the $16.34 minimum wage Seatac has for many of its employees.

Send Emergency Funds to Our Food Bank
I propose the city immediately give the Des Moines Food Bank $15,000. The food bank has received a large increase influx of patrons due to the pandemic, but no increase in financing. The money could be used to purchase food and equipment, pay staff or bring in new staff. I also propose we fund and establish a second food bank on the southside of Des Moines, so that those who live away from the downtown area – especially those without reliable transportation – don’t have to travel across town.

Have the City Purchase and Distribute Face Masks for Free to Residents
Like what is being done in Riviera Beach, Florida (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSc-mc-92s0), I propose the city make a bulk purchase of face masks in order to provide them for free to our residents. I propose the city establish temporary drive-thru pick-up points. For those who are unable to make it to a pickup point due to risk factors I propose establishing a page on the city website where residents can put in their info to have a mask shipped to them.

Even if we were to eventually purchase masks for 2/3rds of the city’s residents (assuming at least a third already has their own), and even accounting for shipping a portion of all told this would cost below $40,000 based on current estimates, which is a modest investment in keeping our community safe.

Establish a Series of City-Sponsored Virtual Job Fairs
The pandemic has left many people out of work. Although many businesses aren’t open at the moment and many are struggling to retain their employees, there are some that are still hiring (particularly “essential businesses” that remain open), and there will be a point in the near future when the city and state – and thus businesses – open back up.

I propose the city establish a series (every other month for example) of virtual job fairs, which could allow potential employees to see what job openings there are in the community, receive info on various businesses, connect with business owners and/or hiring managers, etc..

Make Marina Parking Free Through the Summer
Many people are struggling financially at the moment, meaning even a charge of a few dollars could be a burden. I propose opening the gates and removing the parking fee at the Des Moines Marina and Beach Park at least through the summer. This will allow our residents – once restrictions are lifted – to go to and enjoy our marina and beach park without having to worry about whether or not they can afford it.

Offer Discounted Vouchers for Des Moines Businesses
I propose the city establishing a voucher system in which it sells vouchers at a discounted rate which could be used exclusively at Des Moines-based businesses. For example, the city could sell a voucher valued at $50 for $35. This voucher, once purchased, could be used at any participating Des Moines business. This would encourage consumers to eat/shop local and support local businesses.

More Ideas?
As always, my colleagues on the city council and I want to hear from you! If you have any ideas on how we can provide relief to our residents and businesses, or if you have any comments, suggestions or criticisms regarding the proposals above, you can reach me at [email protected] – you can reach the full council at [email protected].

The above proposals and comments are put forth by me as an individual councilmember and do not necessarily reflect the views of the city council or any of its members. That said I am in active communication with some of my colleagues regarding these ideas.

– Anthony Martinelli

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