By Jessyka Heredia
February 28, 2023 (Lemon Grove) -- Thanks to the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), federal stimulus funds were given to the city of Lemon Grove back in late 2022 in the amount of $6.4 million aimed at giving cities direct relief after the impacts of the COVID19 pandemic. A gift card program initiated by Lemon Grove with federal funds has been a success, generating over $122,000 in gift cards redeemed at local businesses. So at it’s February 21 meeting, the City Council addressed ways to extend the program with two additional phases.
The federal funds can only be used to help cities recover after the pandemic and invest in their future such as preventing layoffs of essential workers, costs incurred by the effects of the pandemic, investing in technology and IT infrastructure such as online permitting and public complaint software as well as stimulating the local business economy among other things but may not be used to offset a reduction of tax revenues and cannot be deposited into pension funds.
In November of 2022 the City Council approved a resolution that introduced the Yifty Gift Card program, allotting $150,000 in ARPA funds to be used to stimulate the small businesses in Lemon Grove. The program featured a buy one, get one (BOGO) free incentive to purchasers and no transaction processing fees for the businesses.
The Lemon Grove City Council during the February 21st meeting gave the City Manager Lydia Romero the direction to extend the “Shop Local Digital Gift Card Program” into a second and third phase.
When the original Gift Card Program was released, residents could purchase up to two gift cards in increments of $25, $50, $100, and $150 and the city would issue the purchaser a BOGO gift card for the same amount to be used only at local Lemon Grove businesses who had signed up to participate in the program.
The city originally earmarked $150,000 in matching funds and is moving forward into phase two and even a phase three with an additional $150,000 in total funding for both phases at $75,000 each phase. To date, more than $122,000 in gift cards have been redeemed, helping numerous Lemon Grove businesses and residents.
Phase two is expected to include the same BOGO feature with the same denominations as phase one, meaning if a resident was to buy a $150 gift card the city would issue an additional gift card for $150 to the purchaser.
Phase three will see a smaller incentive and lowered denominations, according to the direction given by the City Council.
Councilmember George Gastil suggested that he would like to see the program last longer by changing the incentives to buy one, get one half off and lowering the top denomination to $100 instead of $150 saying, “The longer the program is around, the more customers we will collect for these businesses.”
Councilmembers Snow and Mendoza wanted the program to stay the same as phase one while Mayor Vasquez agreed with Gastil that lowering the incentives would be a good way to stretch out the life of the program. Councilmember LeBaron was not in attendance to break the tie so the four board members ended up with a compromise, lowering the matching option to buy one, get one half off and the purchasing increments maxing at $100.
There was no timeline stated as to when phase two would roll out, but the city manager did clarify that if a person bought two BOGO gift cards in round one, they would not be eligible to receive the promotions offered in round two or three.