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The Fresno City Council voted to take the next step on two grant programs, one for small businesses and one for residents to keep their homes, with a 6-1 vote Thursday.

But, ambiguity in the resolution’s language could run afoul of federal and state laws when it comes to granting money to noncitizens, one councilman warned.

With the approval, the city will establish a $1.5 million Housing Retention Grant Program, providing $500 for individuals and $1,000 for multi-person households to help with rent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Details about how the program is administered still need to be worked out by the council and city staff.

Changes to Prior Version

Councilman Garry Bredefeld objected to housing funds going to undocumented immigrants and voted against the housing and small business grants.

The council had voted 4-3 at its April 25 meeting on a similar housing program that will be superseded by today’s action.

The prior version said priority would be given to those who may not qualify for federal funds. Bredefeld interpreted that as meaning that funds would go to undocumented immigrants.

The Center for American Liberty, led by civil rights attorney Harmeet Dhillon, sent the council a letter saying such an action could be illegal under federal and state laws.

While there is no specific language about residency in the resolution — other than living within the city — it does say that federal stimulus money will be used “to the extent legally available.”

Luis Chavez, one of resolution’s three co-authors along with Esmeralda Soria and Paul Caprioglio, defended giving aid to undocumented immigrants.

“These are the people the federal government deemed essential, but (didn’t) give assistance. … It is hypocritical,” Chavez said.

Several residents also shared concerns about the undocumented being left out.

No Support for Bredefeld Actions

Bredefeld said he wanted to support the Save Our Small Businesses funding, but he didn’t receive support to separate it from the housing grants.

He also received no support for ensuring that only legal residents receive aid.

Caprioglio and Mike Karbassi voted no the last time the housing support proposal came to the council. Caprioglio said this version helps both renters and landlords.

The housing grant program allows landlords to apply on the condition that they forgive late rent and not charge penalties for back rent.

A worried wife and husband with pet dog sitting at a table with piles of billsman

The Fresno City Council approved $500 for individuals and $1,000 for multi-person households to help with rent during the COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, May 14, 2020. (Shutterstock)

More Money for Small Businesses

The council voted to add $2 million to the Save Our Small Businesses fund for a second round of aid. To comply with federal funding, the program is a grant.

The first round of the act saw 116 businesses receive forgivable zero-interest loans between $5,000 and $10,000.

The council said the money would be distributed equally through the seven council districts, and a lottery would determine the recipients if there are more applicants than funds.

In a separate action, the council voted 7-0 to fund a $500,000 grant program for micro farmers in the city.

“Our Southeast Asian farmers were not able to secure any funding from earlier efforts,” said Blong Xiong, executive director of Asian Business Institute Resource Center. “These funds will not
only assist these business owners, but will also feed constituents in our community who are experiencing food insecurity.”

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