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Restaurants and other businesses that have been shutdown by Directed Health Measures may benefit from the TIME gift card program.

Area businesses may soon see several thousand dollars in financial help from the public and local donors.

The Milford City Council approved a TIME gift card match program at a special meeting April 21, and the Seward County Chamber and Development Partnership is working with Seward and Utica to follow suit.

The TIME program is a Triple Impact Match Event. The idea is that for every $1 a person spends on a gift card or certificate for a local business, that $1 will be matched by both the Legacy Fund for Seward County and the Milford Citizens Advisory Review Committee (LB840 fund), resulting in $3 that will go directly to that business.

However, the program will only last about two weeks once parameters are set.

Each business may receive a maximum of $1,000 from each donor, resulting in a total of $3,000: $1,000 from initial sales, $1,000 from the Legacy Fund and $1,000 from the LB840 fund.

Jonathan Jank, president and CEO of the SCCDP, said this was a retention effort to make sure businesses most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and related shutdowns are able to stay afloat.

“It's to keep the lights on and the doors open, because a lot of those businesses are really struggling right now,” Jank said. “This is a pay it forward sort of a movement. We're asking customers to support their local businesses by buying gift cards and gift certificates.”

The Milford Citizens Advisory Review Committee handles the sales tax money the city receives under Legislative Bill 840.

The council voted to allow up to $30,000 in LB840 funds toward the TIME program, but it stipulated that only businesses with actual storefronts would qualify, not those that operate mostly online.

Jeff Baker, who serves on the LB840 committee for Milford, said the committee initially proposed $15,000 for the program.

“Then they started driving around Milford in their minds,” he said, and expanded their view to include businesses just outside the city limits, as well. “Pretty much every business has been impacted in some way, shape or form. Some of it's a snowball effect. People stop driving, so there's fewer oil changes and repairs. Anything that you would want to ensure that when this pandemic is over that they are still able to open their doors is really what the advisory committee had recommended.”

Milford's LB840 dollars would also support businesses in Beaver Crossing and Pleasant Dale, since those communities don't have LB840 funds.

Jank said the hope is that Seward and Utica, who each have LB840 funds of their own, will approve the program as well.

Seward, for example, could support businesses in Garland and Bee, while Utica could support the Goehner area.

“From the fire department perspective, we mutual aid with Beaver Crossing and Pleasant Dale. Historically, that has been kind of our region,” Milford council member Scott Bashore said.

The Legacy Fund for Seward County operates under the Nebraska Community Foundation. It began a separate fundraising effort, the COVID-19 Response Fund, when the pandemic began affecting local residents and businesses.

Currently, it has raised about $61,000 through donations. People may donate or churches, schools, other nonprofits and governmental agencies can apply for the funds at https://www.sewardcountylegacy.org.

The Legacy Fund's TIME match also will come out of that COVID-19 Response Fund.

“We could potentially have more businesses asking for funds than we have funds to give,” Jank said.

If that's the case, the donors would give a percentage to each businesses instead of the full match.

Jank said the goal is to stimulate retail sales and generate a financial bridge for businesses. The program is not a kickback for customers, as the businesses will receive the matched dollars, not the purchaser.

But don't run out to purchase gift cards just yet. Businesses that wish to participate will first have to apply and be accepted to the program, then track their sales on a spreadsheet.

Since the use of LB840 funds have to be clearly documented, each participating business will be required to verify gift card purchases and show proof of checks or sales receipts.

Jank said the idea came from Phelps County, which is operating a similar program.

The program is only intended to last a couple of weeks at most.

“We don't want this to be a long, drawn out thing. Businesses need help now,” Jank said.

In his motion, council member Jason Stahl said the program would begin as soon as Seward and Utica make their decisions and businesses are notified of the program. It will last two weeks after that date.

The program will be open to any business in the county, not just those who are members of the SCCDP.

For more information, contact Jank at jonathan@cultivatesewardcounty.com.

Additional information about the program will be available soon.

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