Amazon creates $5M relief fund to aid small businesses in Seattle impacted by coronavirus outbreak

Sarah Perez

Amazon, along with many other tech companies, said it would continue to pay its hourly employees as its work from home policies were in effect. It also said it was subsidizing rent for businesses inside the buildings it owns. Today, Amazon announced it's creating a $5 million Neighborhood Small Relief Fund to provide cash grants to local small businesses in need during the novel coronavirus outbreak, as well.

The fund will be directed towards small businesses with fewer than 50 employees or less than $7 million in annual revenue, and with a physical presence within a few blocks of Regrade and South Lake Union office buildings. The businesses must be those that are open to the general public and that are reliant on foot traffic for customers.

The businesses will be asked to share how much revenue they anticipate to lose during the month of March, and will be asked to back up that information in some way. Amazon will work with a third party to administer grant applications and distribute the funds. The applications will be reviewed during the second half of March and funds will be distributed in April.

The funds are intended to help the businesses retain and pay their employees, stay current on their rent, and cover other fixed costs related to their operations, Amazon says.

Amazon, arguably, has some responsibility here. As the company established itself in these neighborhoods, the small businesses -- including restaurants, food trucks, coffee shops, and retailers -- followed. And when Amazon employees are directed to stay home, the surrounding economy suffers. If Amazon were not to help support the businesses, by the time the work from home policy was lifted, many of these businesses could be gone.

"As we all adapt to the circumstances caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, we know that we have an important role to play in keeping our employees and residents safe and healthy, and in supporting the local businesses that are our neighbors," wrote Amazon's real estate chief John Schoettler, in a morning announcement. "This is a difficult time in our city, and we will continue to try to work with our community to get through it together," he said.

Amazon is now one of several tech companies helping to financially support individuals impacted by the outbreak. Uber, Salesforce, Cisco, MicrosoftLyftSquare, Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Apple, have all made commitments to pay hourly and other contingent workers impacted by reduced staffing requirements. Google also provided $25 million in donated ad credit to WHO and government agencies. And, to make up for its cancellation of Google I/O, it pledged $1 million to local Mountain View organizations to support small businesses and increase STEM and computer science opportunities in Mountain View schools.

In addition, Microsoft, Amazon and other Seattle-area companies are partnering with nonprofits and governments to launch a relief fund in response to the outbreak. Amazon and Microsoft committed $1 million apiece to this fund. Microsoft said it would also match employee donations to causes aiding in response to COVID-19.

Amazon says the local businesses it's supporting with the new fund employ "tens of thousands" and are a critical part of the economy.

"They’re our friends and neighbors, and we believe it’s important to try to help them confront the economic challenges that are likely to come from the COVID-19 outbreak," Schoettler added.