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Nonprofits ask for access to $275 million in Wyoming COVID-19 relief for businesses

(Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — The Wyoming Legislature is set to hold a special legislative session beginning Friday, May 15 where they will consider several bills aimed to provide relief for Wyomingites and businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each chamber of the legislature will consider three pairs of “mirror bills” related to the emergency appropriation of $1.25 billion in federal Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act qualifying funding which have been received by the state. A fourth pair of bills would give the governor increased authority to transfer funding appropriated to executive branch agencies.

Under the “mirror bill” process, the Wyoming House of Representatives and the Senate will begin the session with consideration of four separate, but identical pieces of legislation. If either chamber amend the bills throughout the three-reading process, the legislature will work to resolve differences before sending the legislation to Governor Mark Gordon for consideration.

House Bill 1001 and Senate File 1001 would direct the overall appropriation of the $1.25 billion in CARES Act funding received by Wyoming. Those bills contemplate four categories of priority need for use of the funding:

  • COVID-19 emergency response: funding for expenditures incurred or that will be incurred “as a direct response of combating COVID-19 in Wyoming, for which CARES Act relief funds may currently be expended”
  • Relief aid: payments to state and local programs to support businesses, families and individuals
  • Economic development projects: capital construction, road building, infrastructure, broadband and other projects aimed to offset economic impacts of COVID-19
  • Replacement of lost revenue for public entities: relied funds for state and local governments to continue providing “a base level of critical services while longer term solutions to this economic crisis can be implemented”

Two of the other three pairs of mirror bills are “companion acts” to House Bill 1001 and Senate File 1001 which relate to how aspects of the overall $1.25 billion would be appropriated.

House Bill 1002 and Senate File 1002 contemplate appropriating up to $10 million of the overall $1.25 billion “for establishment and operation of a temporary program for payment of rent and avoidance of evictions for persons impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Legislative Service Office explains.

House Bill 1004 and Senate File 1004 would appropriate $275 million of the overall $1.25 billion in CARES Act funding for three relief programs for Wyoming businesses. That $275 million would include:

  • $50 million for the Wyoming business interruption stipend program
  • $175 million for the coronavirus business relief loan program
  • $50 million for the coronavirus mitigation stipend program

Some members of the legislature held an online listening session on Tuesday to solicit input from the public regarding the up-coming special session and to field questions. During the listening session, some urged the legislature to ensure that nonprofits are able to access some of the $275 million in relief funding for Wyoming businesses.

“Nonprofits should have an ability to apply for CARES funding,” said Jason Mincer, Wyoming government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. “We have tons of nonprofits across the state that are doing great work.”

House District 13 Representative Cathy Connolly indicated that nonprofits are likely eligible for the funding under the proposed language of the legislation.

“Did you find any language in any of the four bills that you feel like are excluding nonprofits from participation?” she asked Mincer.

Mincer replied that he didn’t see anything explicitly preventing nonprofits from accessing this funding, but that he “would be more comfortable if they were explicitly included.”

Wyoming Women’s Foundation Director Rebekah Smith similarly said that “it would be great to see [nonprofits] added as an entity that can apply for CARES funds.”

Under the current language of the bill, eligibility and awards for each of the three programs that would be created is as follows:

  • $50 million Wyoming business interruption stipend program:
    • Wyoming owned and operated businesses with 50 full time employees or less as of March 31 who experienced interruptions due to COVID-19 public health orders
    • $15,000 to maximum $50,000 awards (depending on number of employees)
    • preference given to businesses which didn’t receive federal PPP funding
  • $175 million coronavirus business relief loan program
    • Wyoming owned and operated businesses with 100 full time employees or less as of March 31 who were “adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic or by required closures”
    • 0% interest loans of up to $300,000
  • $50 million coronavirus mitigation stipend program
    • “to reimburse COVID-related expenses that an eligible business actually incurred between March 1, 2020 and December 1, 2020”
    • can include costs of cleaning products, personal protective equipment, training expenses, etc.
    • maximum $500,000

The Wyoming Department of Health provides COVID-19 case, variant, death, testing, hospital and vaccine data online. The department also shares information about how the data can be interpreted. COVID-19 safety recommendations are available from the CDC.