San Joaquin County has spent $2 million matching the money residents will spend on local businesses, in theory, putting cash in digital pockets and injecting much-needed relief into local businesses. The program has been active for more than eight months, but businesses in South Stockton have yet to see a dime.
The Relief Across Downtown, or RAD, program — piloted by the Downtown Modesto Partnership and later taken over by San Joaquin County — is an app-based relief program that began with private donations and has since expanded with donations. federal COVID relief funds. The county spent $1 million in CARES Act funding for RAD cards in June and an additional $1 million in US Bailout Act funds in September.
At the beginning of March, 256 companies were registered in the RAD program, against 249 in February, which the Department of Employment and Economic Development attests to sustained interest in the program. More than $3.5 million in buying power has been loaded onto RAD cards, with approximately 73% already in use, but of the hundreds of businesses benefiting from RAD card sales, none reside in southern Stockholm.
County Supervisor Miguel Villapudua, who represents residents of South Stockton, said he saw some hesitation when he first walked into businesses to push the RAD card.
“I don’t think the trust factor was there,” Villapudua said. “If someone walks in and says, ‘Hey, would you accept this app to pay for your meal and pay for everything,’ people look at you and say, ‘No, I want cash or a credit card. It’s just a challenge that we have to meet.
Room for redemption
The San Joaquin County Department of Employment and Economic Development will ask the Board of Supervisors on March 22 for an additional $2.3 million for RAD cards, the county’s largest investment in the program to date.
Under the new funding round, the county would now match up to $200 in RAD basemaps to use countywide, instead of being previously limited by city. The $2.3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds would include $30,000 for the purchase of tablets and technology devices to enable businesses to process RAD transactions, which had not been done during the previous program funding cycles.
Patti Virgen, executive director of the county’s Economic Development Employment Department, participated in a leadership change after the initial rollout of the RAD card program. She said while she appreciates the efforts of her predecessors, she wants more county staff and resources in underserved areas.
“We’re really going to make boots on the ground to come in and talk to businesses,” Virgen said. “We are meeting with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to target some of these businesses that have a language barrier.”
Lisa Vela has been the relatively new CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for about two years and continues to lead Stockton’s ethnic businesses during the pandemic. She said part of the reason the RAD map didn’t take off in South Stockton is because business owners’ bottom line was so dire that their minds were on basic necessities.
“If I’m worried about paying my employees, I don’t think of an RAD card program,” Vela said. “I think of critical resources: a roof over my head, inventory for sale, personnel, medical care – the RAD card program, although a critical resource, was not in the line of fire .”
In previous rounds of RAD Map funding, ‘community champions’ have been selected to speak with local businesses, but it’s clear the message hasn’t resonated in South Stockton. Over 20 years of experience in television, radio and marketing has taught Vela that building trust is all about having the right messenger.
“We look to trusted messengers when we do marketing and promotions,” she said, also referring to her tenure as chair of the San Joaquin County Comprehensive Census Committee. “There are a lot of historical and institutional feelings of [distrust.] ‘If I’m going to fill out this form, what does it mean? Will I have to pay it back? Can I entrust him with my personal information? What are they trying to do? Will they profit from my business? Will I have to pay more taxes?’ It is a trust factor.
As well as a new media and radio campaign – Virgen said the plan was to get a Spanish radio station on board, but at press time a deal had not been confirmed – Vela said that she was thrilled to see the new round of funding included bilingual education for business owners by county staff members fluent in Spanish and Mandarin.
“When you talk about money, you’re going to use whatever language you’re most comfortable with,” Vela said. “When you talk about health, you might speak perfect English, but you start speaking Spanish because now we are talking about personnel. The same goes for finances.
South Stockton businesses have missed more than eight months of financial assistance from the RAD card program, but San Joaquin County can catch up with fair outreach for their proposed third round of funding.
“With a (third-round) success, they’ll have a fourth, fifth, and sixth-round, because in San Joaquin County that disparity isn’t going to go away,” Vela said. “With the leadership of Patti Virgen, talking with them and seeing the direction this is taking, I’m very inspired by what they can do.”
Record reporter Ben Irwin covers Stockton and San Joaquin county government. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @B1rwin. Support local news, subscribe to The Stockton Record at recordnet.com/subscribenow.