Frequently Asked Questions | August 10, 2020
What is the Small Business Program for Utility Relief (SPUR)?
Through an Ordinance passed unanimously on June 3, 2020 Portland’s City Council directed the Portland Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services to establish a program to assist small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Small Business Program for Utility Relief (SPUR) offered one-time credits on qualifying businesses’ sewer/stormwater/water bills. The $1.6-million program was funded by the Portland Water Bureau and the Bureau of Environmental Services. Applications were open from July 8 to July 22, 2020 and were available in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Russian. More than 500 businesses received bill credits as part of this program.
SPUR was modeled after and informed by Prosper Portland’s Small Business Relief Fund, which provided money to small businesses affected by the 2020 economic and public health emergency.
How many businesses applied for SPUR, and how many will receive a credit?
More than 2,000 applications were received. SPUR originally had $1 million allocated and anticipated funding 200 to 300 businesses. In response to the overwhelming need in the business community, the SPUR selection committee worked with Commissioner Fritz and Mayor Wheeler to allocate an additional $600,000. With a total of $1.6 million available, credits were offered to more than 500 businesses, about 25 percent of the businesses that applied.
Who got the credits?
A list of the businesses that received credits will be posted by Aug. 19.
How was the amount of the credit calculated?
The credit amount was calculated by analyzing the businesses’ City sewer, stormwater, and water charges from March 2019 to March 2020, the year before the coronavirus pandemic (data available in the utility billing system). Businesses were then assigned to the tiers below based on their past charges.
Sewer, stormwater, and water charges in 2019
Less than $2500
$2,500 – $5,000
$5,000 – $10,000
$10,000 – $20,000
$20,000 or more
Who decided priorities for who got the credits?
Before the application opened, the utility bureaus invited a group of community business representatives to guide the selection process for this program. The community business representatives were not eligible to apply for SPUR credits. This SPUR Selection Committee used the eligibility criteria and equity and vulnerability priorities set out by City Council and developed additional criteria to prioritize the applications. The committee included representatives from:
- Council for Economic and Racial Equity
- Portland Utility Board
- Oregon Native American Chamber
- Philippine American Chamber of Commerce of Oregon
- Black American Chamber
- Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber of Oregon
- Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce
How were the applications evaluated?
First, the SPUR selection committee applied program priorities established by City Council – Black, Indigenous, and all People of Color (BIPOC) and women-owned businesses, childcare businesses, and businesses open for Phase I. The committee then considered size of business, business type, how long the business has been in operation, geographic distribution and communities served.
The need for support greatly exceeds the available funds for the program, and 75 percent of businesses did not receive a credit. The application review process was mindful of historical inequities. The selection process was driven by a clear recognition that Black, Indigenous, and all People of Color (BIPOC) communities are disproportionately affected by this crisis.
I didn't receive a credit. Are there any other resources to help my business?
Yes. Here are some other resources for small businesses:
Utility bill support
- Contact PWBCustomerService@portlandoregon.gov or 503-823-7770 to sign up for monthly billing or set up a payment arrangement.
- Get a free water efficiency consultation or order free water efficiency devices. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-823-4527.
- If you safely manage stormwater that falls on your property, you can sign up for Clean River Rewards.
- Residential customers may qualify for the bill discount program. Contact PWBCustomerService@portlandoregon.gov or 503-823-7770
Prosper Portland support
- The City Council recently allocated 15 million dollars from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to support small businesses. Prosper Portland will be opening a new application process to distribute that support in late August. Understanding that businesses already invested time and resources in the SPUR applications, Prosper Portland is currently exploring automatically enrolling all SPUR applicants in the application pool for the new CARES funding. Prosper Portland will carry over information from your SPUR application to provide you with a faster "auto-enrolled" application for the new grant funds. Businesses will need to verify details and finalize that application, but this will save time and effort. Prosper Portland will reach out with more information towards the end of August.
If the pandemic stretches on, will the City do this again?
This is unknown. The Portland Water Bureau and the Bureau of Environmental Services are discussing how the utilities can best support Portlanders through the pandemic, recognizing that additional costs for grant programs/debt forgiveness would increase rates for all customers.
To receive timely information, businesses can sign up to receive notifications from Prosper Portland.
How do I know my application was reviewed?
You should have received a confirmation email immediately after submitting your application. You also would have received a second email on July 27, thanking applicants for their participation and sharing details about the timeline. You would also have received a third email on Aug. 5, letting all applicants know whether they received a credit.
Who was eligible?
To qualify, businesses had to meet all of the following criteria:
- Receive sewer, stormwater, or water service from the City of Portland.
- Have lost revenue due to the impacts of the pandemic.
- Have two million dollars or less in annual gross revenue (in 2019).
- Have 50 or fewer employees.
- Have been in operation and in compliance with the State of Oregon registration requirements on or prior to July 1, 2019. (Sole proprietors operating under the owner’s name are not required to register with the State of Oregon, so they meet this eligibility requirement.)
All applications were evaluated using a racial equity and vulnerability lens. The utility bureaus are committed to centering racial equity in our response to the pandemic.
How long was the application open?
Online applications were open from 9 a.m. July 8 to 5 p.m., July 22.
Applications were available in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Russian.
What was the timeline for applying for the program and receiving funds?
- Wednesday, July 8, 2020: Applications opened (9:00 a.m.)
- Wednesday, July 22, 2020: Applications closed (5:00 p.m.)
- Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020: Credits announced, applicants notified
- Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020: Credits applied to accounts
How did businesses receive the money?
Selected applicants will receive funding as a one-time credit on their sewer/stormwater/water bill.
What if my small business does not directly receive a sewer/stormwater/water bill?
Not all small businesses receive a utility bill directly from the City; some pay those costs through rent. Those businesses were encouraged to collaborate with the utility bill account holder on the application process and negotiate how to share any bill credit.
What if my small business operates from my home?
The SPUR application was open to home-based businesses.
What if my business has multiple accounts with the City?
Each business was eligible to apply only once. Our goal is to support as many businesses as possible through this program.
Why weren’t nonprofits eligible?
Nonprofit organizations that provide childcare services were eligible for the program. Unfortunately, all others were not eligible. SPUR dedicated the limited funding available to support small businesses and used an equity lens to prioritize BIPOC-owned (Black, Indigenous, and all People of Color) businesses.
Nonprofits are also struggling and do important work for our community. Below are some ways nonprofits can manage their bills, and some links to resources for nonprofits.
- Sign up for monthly billing or set up a payment arrangement with the Portland Water Bureau: 503-823-7770 or PWBCustomerService@portlandoregon.gov.
- Get a free water efficiency consultation or order free water efficiency devices: email@example.com or 503-823-4527.
- If you safely manage stormwater on your property, sign up for Clean River Rewards.
- The Nonprofit Association of Oregon has information about COVID-19 economic relief and funding, plus other resources for employers: nonprofitoregon.org/news/covid-19-resources.
- Grantmakers of Oregon and Southwest Washington has a list of grants and other financial help available to local nonprofits: gosw.org/covid19/.
What should I do about my business’ bills while waiting to hear if my business will receive a SPUR credit?
Continue to pay your utility bill. If you’re struggling to make payments, contact the Water Bureau to set up a payment plan. The Water Bureau is not currently shutting water off for non-payment.
If your business is approved for this program, the Water Bureau will apply a credit to your existing sewer/stormwater/water bill. You will still be responsible for any remaining charges on the bill and payment arrangements will still be available to you.
Where is the money coming from? Will this program raise rates?
This program provides relief in the form of a bill credit and is not an out-of-pocket cost for the utility bureaus. The bureaus are anticipating an overall reduction in revenue because of the pandemic, and SPUR is part of that anticipated reduction. No rate increase is tied to this program.
This is a wise business decision for the bureaus and the right thing to do. The utility bureaus are investing in small businesses now, so they will be here to invest in sewer/stormwater/water infrastructure for years to come. The bureaus are supporting businesses now so they can stay in business, recover, and continue to contribute to our community.
Why is the City doing this?
Commissioner Amanda Fritz heard from the business community, particularly from communities of color, women, and others with historical disadvantages to accessing capital, that the financial burden of the pandemic was becoming untenable. Commissioner Fritz and Mayor Ted Wheeler asked the utility bureaus to work with community partners to find ways to support small businesses. City officials recognize that the pandemic has had profound impacts on small businesses, and this funding will not singlehandedly keep them open. The program was developed to provide relief to small business owners who are worried about paying sewer/stormwater/water bills.
Why aren’t you offering this to businesses outside of Portland?
SPUR program money comes from Portlanders’ sewer/stormwater/water bills. To be fair to those ratepayers, only Portland businesses are eligible for this funding.
How can I find out more?