Most of the nearly $1 million distributed via “Cordova Cash” payment cards has been spent. Beginning Nov. 20, the city of Cordova distributed 2,240 cards for use at select local businesses as part of an effort to stimulate a local economy hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic and associated lockdowns.
Harmony Graziano, the city hall clerk who organized the program, said that almost every business which signed up to participate in the program has received at least a few Cordova Cash payments. Though it was initially expected that most of the funds would end up being spent at grocery stores, many residents have used their cards to make donations or to cover health and wellness-related expenses, she said.
Applications were briefly reopened in December to allow residents who had missed the initial deadline to participate in the program. The city reached out to elders and other individuals who might not have been aware of the program, and some residents contacted the city to make sure that friends and acquaintances had successfully applied.
“There were a lot of people making sure other people were covered,” Graziano said. “Our efforts to include everybody were bolstered by people in the town helping us.”
The city worked to frame the program in a way that would make it seem fun, rather than like yet another dreary and complicated federal relief program, Graziano said.
The cards, containing $999,500 of the $1 million allotted for the program, were mailed out to 1,678 adults and 562 dependents. As of Tuesday, Jan. 5, $672,000 of that money had been spent in over 12,000 unique transactions. The city has received numerous calls from business owners saying that the program has helped give them a boost during a slow quarter, Graziano said.
“It’s been such a cool program to be a part of,” Graziano said. “Executing it and hearing the excitement in people’s voices and the relief in other people’s voices — even just for me personally, it funded all my Christmas presents.”
The project was originally suggested by City Manager Helen Howarth, who said she hoped it would encourage residents to shop at local businesses.
“If there was a way to keep the program going, we would do it, because I like the fact that we were able to push resources into our business community,” Howarth said. “I’m hopeful that, maybe, people will pick up some good habits from this program.”
Dotty Widmann, owner of The Net Loft crafting store, said that the program drew customers to the store who hadn’t visited since lockdown began in March. Widmann was grateful both to the city and to the customers who chose to spend their Cordova Cash at her store, she said.
“There’s been a lot of joy spread around,” Widmann said.
However, it seems unlikely that special programs like Cordova Cash will be sufficient to stop the encroachment of online retailers like Amazon and Target, Widmann said.
“The Cordova dollars were a shot in the weary arm, and so very much appreciated, but, in general, the effort to shop Cordova first needs to be a long-term intentional decision, if the option to continue to be able to have local options for goods and services within the community is desired by the community,” Widmann wrote in an email. “In other words, if we as a community would like there to be physical spaces to walk in to purchase products, we need to make the intentional effort to support these places on a regular basis, even though it might be harder and perhaps sometimes more costly to purchase products that are available in town than from an online option.”