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Santa Clara County Eyes Lifeline For COVID-Affected Small Businesses

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) -- With federal stimulus monies still tied up in Washington, Santa Clara County officials may be taking a bold step to help struggling small businesses. The county could soon be creating a new $100 million low-interest loan program for small businesses.

"We can't be holding our breaths to wait for the federal government to do right by our local small businesses," said county Supervisor Susan Ellenberg, who is proposing the program this week along with Supervisor Joe Simitian.

Despite the further easing of restrictions in Santa Clara County last week, small businesses say they are still struggling.

Tranquility Day Spa has open doors and paying customers, but owner Lieu Shultz says her business is still off by half.

"A lot of clients are still scared to come back, even though we are following the guidelines, social distancing," Shultz said. "But still not yet. I think it will take a while."

Ellenberg said businesses are struggling in part because they are following county health orders.

"We hear from the businesses who are operating at a fractional level and they are doing this because they are complying with public health orders," Ellenberg said. "And I believe that we owe a duty to help them weather this storm."

The proposal will be introduced at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday.

Details on how the program would work, including partnerships with banks, and interest rates would be worked out by county administrators in coming weeks.

But Ellenberg hopes the county can back loans of $50,000 or more. "I think this is big and bold," she said.

Lieu Shultz likes the idea because she wants to stay open but worries about the details.

"I don't want debt on top of debt, you know?" said Shultz.

Although the county faces a projected deficit of $285 million, backers say keeping businesses alive could save money long-term because employed workers would not need county safety net services such as housing, food and medical.

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