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House amend $275 million Wyo. small business relief bill; jettison loans in favor of stipends

Artisan Alley owner Corinne Driscoll hands out To Go Kits in back of her store. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — The Wyoming House of Representatives adopted two amendments to House Bill 1004 during the special session on Friday, May 15 which make changes to proposed COVID-19 relief programs for small businesses in the state.

House Bill 1004 (and its mirror bill Senate File 1004) would appropriate $275 million toward three different relief programs aimed to help Wyoming small businesses.

The largest of the three programs was initially slated to be a $175 million coronavirus business relief loan program. However, some in the state’s banking industry indicated that Wyoming banks are already overwhelmed managing a high volume of Small Business Administation Paycheck Protection Program loans.

House District 27 Representative Mike Greear introduced an amendment in order “to make this a better, cleaner bill, more workable for people.” The House adopted Greear’s amendment which does away with the proposed loan program and turns it into a stipend program.

The amendment does not modify the overall funding that would go toward the proposed program. With the amendment, the bill proposes appropriating $275 million of $1.25 billion in federal Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act qualifying funding which has been received by the state toward the following three programs:

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

“Every business has risks,” Greear said in explaining his amendment. “Business owners understand that they have to deal with those risks. We’re fortunate to be in a position as the House of Representatives to be able to help deal with the risk that came out of the blue.”

Greear noted that the he had left other aspect of the $175 million business relief program unchanged in the amendment. To be eligible, businesses would still have to be Wyoming owned and operated with 100 employees or fewer.

The stipend program would be administered by the Wyoming Business Council and businesses would be required to certify they are eligible.

“The applicant will submit a plan on a simple form to the business council,” Greear explained. “I hope that to be a very, very simple form.”

The WBC could still partner with financial institutions to help administer the stipends.

“The business council may go ahead and contract with our financial institutions,” Greear said. “Banks may be in good place to get the word out and help get applications in.”

He said one main eligibility requirement would be to show that a business intends to try to continue operating in Wyoming, with a requirement that they agree to continue operating in Wyoming for at least three years. The up to $300,000 stipends could be used to pay for the following, according to the amendment:

  • Payroll costs
  • Business supplies
  • Business equipment including equipment necessary to resuming normal business operations and equipment necessary to modify business operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic or to public health guidelines
  • Other business expenses, including but not limited to rent or mortgage payments, utilities and other operational costs
  • Any other expenditure or expense related to business interruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic

If businesses don’t use stipend funds for these purposes, they would have to repay the funds plus 2% annual interest. Greear said that businesses which fail would not be expected to pay back the grant, but that if businesses tried to access the stipends with no intention of staying in Wyoming, the state may seek legal action to take back the funding.

The House adopted another amendment to House Bill 1001 introduced by Speaker Pro Tempore Albert Sommers.

That amendment increases the base business interruption stipend available to businesses under the $50 million business interruption stipend program from $15,000 to $20,000.

Majority Floor Leader Eric Barlow questioned whether $20,000 would be much help to businesses.

“My question is is $20,000 enough?” he asked “Let’s think about the reality of what the costs have been [under multiple weeks of business interruption].”

Greear, who is House Chair of the Joint Minerals, Business & Economic Development which prepared the legislation, said that the $50 million business interruption program was intended “to be a quick hitter for those businesses that did not get the PPP.”

He said the larger $175 million coronavirus business relief stipend program was the program intended to “help the businesses heal.” Greear said the business interruption program was intended to have only a one page application in order to get the money out to businesses, “hopefully within two weeks of today’s meeting.”

House District 05 Representative Shelly Duncan, also a member of the Joint Minerals Committee, said that the business interruption program aims to help businesses which missed the cutoff to receive PPP funding or who didn’t qualify.

“This is that stop-gap for all of those that fell through the cracks,” she said.

With the adoption of the two amendments, the three programs would include the following stipend amounts and eligibility guidelines:

  • $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
    • $20,000 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”
    • stipends $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

After passing the bill on second reading, the House recessed until 9 pm to give at least 90 minutes between second and third reading of any bill considered during the special session.

Under the special rules for the session, bills which pass on third reading would move to the second chamber for consideration. They would then be assigned to a Joint Conference Committee to resolve differences.e

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.