EL PASO, Texas -- Thousands of businesses have closed and thousands of people have lost their job during the pandemic.
Recently, County judge Ricardo Samaniego issued a shutdown order for two weeks, which was tossed out by an appeals court as he sought to appeal it. The shutdown forced non-essential businesses to close their doors.
During that shutdown, several small businesses that survived the early months of the pandemic and who were now struggling to push through, refused to close saying it would destroy their business or leave their employees with no source of income.
To offset that loss, county commissioners on Monday were considering an economic relief fund to help small businesses in the Borderland community.
"If there is ever a time for the court to consider releasing funds from its emergency reserve, I think now is probably the best time to do so," said Commissioner Vince Perez.
Perez told the court there is about $35 million set aside in the county's reserve fund, suggesting some of that money cold be used for the economic relief fund.
Perez said the economic relief fund would also give Samaniego another tool as we continue through this pandemic considering the challenges he faced with the last shutdown order.
"After the court ruling, our options have dried up, but perhaps a fund like this can help mitigate the economic impact if there continues to be a big flare up in the numbers (unemployment)," said Perez.
Perez also raised concerns about the flu season, which is set to hit as the virus pandemic still hasn't peaked, "If we ask businesses to close voluntarily, this fund could offset this economic impact."
Samaniego agreed with the idea to set up an economic relief fund.
"We’ve sort of gone back and forth. It was the public health leading the way, minimizing any impact on the economy," Samaneigo said. "Then we sort of moved the other way and said 'let's look at the economy, let's try to open it up and minimize the impact it has on public health.' But the real balance is not having one or the other, but the two coming together."
With the direction the county is heading with surging Covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths, Samaniego said it may be soon when businesses ask for a shutdown themselves.
"If things get as critical as they look, they might want that and the businesses might come back and say 'we can't afford to stay open, people are sick, our employees can't go into our health care system," Samaneigo said. "It could get to where that happens from them to us versus the other way around, and this could be the solutions. If they are willing to do that, we need to help them with that process."
During the meeting, each of the commissioners agreed it's time to start looking into some way to help businesses.
Perez told the court he would considering using about $10 million from the reserve fund and they would replace that within 10 to 15 years, or they could give small businesses loans with a 10 to 15 year payback.
The fund is just an idea commissioners court appears to want to move forward with. No decision was made during Monday's meeting.