The City of Turlock is no longer participating in the local business money matching RAD Card program, despite pleas from multiple local business owners.
The City of Turlock partnered with Downtown Modesto Partnership for the RAD Card matching program in December 2021. The RAD Card is a digital gift card dedicated to locally owned businesses. It is a dollar-for-dollar matching program with residents having the ability to create an account and purchase funding increments up to $100 and get free matching funds.
The City of Turlock allocated $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds towards the program. To date, the City contributed $525,000 of the appropriated $1 million towards the RAD Card program; $500,000 in January 2022 and then an additional $25,000 in July 2022.
City staff recommended to the City Council at their Jan. 24 meeting to discontinue the program due to consistent technical difficulties. According to staff, the RAD Card app “goes down often” and the RAD Card support team delayed responses or been unresponsive.
Staff went on to report that data received from the RAD Card administration team showed that many residents had unused funds on the accounts for long periods of time.
A number of local business owners opposed the City ending the program, citing it as an effective incentive to bring in new customers and prompting longtime customers to spend more money.
Michaela Mendez, owner of Bijou Boutique in downtown Turlock, told the Council that RAD Card sales were at least 30% of her business in 2022.
“RAD Card has been so beneficial as a small business owner. It has helped us get through the rough parts of the pandemic,” said Mendez.
“I am really sad that we’re having this conservation more than a year after the funds were approved. As an owner of a local small business, I’ve seen the RAD card work. I know firsthand of customers who purchased something that they wouldn’t have normally purchased because of those funds…I know firsthand of people going to restaurants they never would have patronized without those funds,” said Lori Smith, co-owner of Main Street Antiques.
“Considering the economic conditions and how everyone is watching their budgets more than ever, the RAD Card gave our citizens a chance to buy something or have an experience they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to afford. The entire downtown community of business owners were very disappointed in the council’s decision,” said former Council member and local business owner Becky Arellano.
Newly elected Council members Cassandra Abram and Kevin Bixle both voiced support in keeping the RAD Card program.
“I think it’s important that this program targeting the consumer because we’re not just helping the businesses, we’re helping the individuals with the funds,” said Abram. “…I am of the mindset to fix it, not abandon it.”
Vice Mayor Pam Franco advocated for reallocating the remaining $475,000 from the RAD Card program to another avenue to stimulate local business.
“As we brought these funds in as ARPA money, we have to be able to tell the federal government how we spend it…$475,000 has got to go to the small businesses and directly to the public. How we do that needs to be a discussion with the public. I am not satisfied with the RAD Card program,” said Franco.
Council member Rebecka Monez said her issue with the RAD Card program was that the same people were using the program every time, and it wasn’t benefiting enough people in Turlock, a sentiment shared by Mayor Amy Bublak.
“It didn’t reach as many businesses as it should in my mind. I want to teach the businesses to fish; I don’t want it to be just a one-time ‘Here you guys take this money,’” Bublak said.
“…the RAD Card didn’t help everybody and it didn’t even help 50% of our businesses, which is our job.”
Turlock Economic Development Director Anthony Sims said he is reviewing potential business support partners to assist as many Turlock businesses as possible with marketing, e-commerce, website development and other areas.
The Council voted 4-1 (Abram opposing) to discontinue the RAD Card program. The City of Turlock will still have to pay $115,000 to RAD Card for administration fees.