Merced County Times Newspaper
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New ‘gift card’ program for residents, merchants

Merced households will soon be receiving a letter with a code that can be redeemed for $25 worth of merchandise at participating local businesses after the City Council approved the program Monday night.

The $500,000 gift card program will benefit both the local businesses that have been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and residents who have been hurt by the economic fallout.

“These are tough times for our residents and our business community,” said Mayor Mike Murphy. “Anything that we can do to help them out is going to benefit the city in the long-term. This is part of a package of financial assistance that the city put together to help people out during this crisis.”

The COVID-19 Recovery Program also includes assistance to renters, small businesses, the Food Bank, the Hotel Motel Association and a one-time utility bill rebate for all customers for a total of $2.37 million in aid.

The Central Valley Opportunity Fund provided $250,000 for the program, and the city matched it with another $250,000. There is a $37,000 cost to administer the program.

Sam Geil of the Central Valley Opportunity Fund said, “We like that this is a program assisting the people of Merced who have been hurt economically during the pandemic, but this also provides an economic boost to the local businesses that are the bedrock of the local economy.”

The city turned to Giftbar, LLC , as a partner in the gift card program. Giftbar, which reduced its fees while working with the city, operates a similar gift card program with the City of Clovis.

“We are thrilled to work with the City of Merced and bring this innovative new local economic stimulus program to its residents and businesses,” said Alex Minicucci, the CEO of Giftbar. “We have a passion for supporting small business owners, and this is a great way to ensure local dollars get spent at local merchants.”

The new program will be promoted heavily by the city, including a letter sent to each household in Merced describing how to receive their complimentary gift card. They will go online to a unique website created by Giftbar, find the local merchant offering the product or service they want, register for their promotional gift card, and instantly receive a text with $25 voucher they can take to the merchant.

Giftbar says that its goal is to have the funds returned to merchants within 48 hours after redemption, about the same time as a credit card pays them. Local small businesses will choose to opt-in and will be featured on a unique website that will stay active for at least 2 years.

Residents should be receiving information about the program within the next 90 days.

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