BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Republican lawmakers moved ahead Thursday with plans to carve out $300 million in federal coronavirus aid that Gov. John Bel Edwards wants to steer to local government agencies to instead create a small business assistance program.
The Democratic governor intended to use an $811 million slice of federal aid from Congress to reimburse local government agencies — sheriff’s offices, city councils, school districts and more — for their coronavirus expenses.
The House voted 73-25 for legislation that would divvy up that money differently, steering $511 million to municipal government expenses and spending $300 million on grants to small businesses damaged by the virus, under a program that would be managed by Republican Treasurer John Schroder.
“It’s about the thousands and thousands of people that small businesses employ,” said Republican Rep. Tony Bacala of Prairieville.
The plan was written by GOP legislative leaders and added into a bill by Republican Sen. Mack “Bodi” White. The measure heads to the Senate for review and a final vote.
Edwards opposes the legislative proposal, and several lawmakers raised concerns Thursday about shortchanging local government agencies struggling to respond to the virus outbreak. The Louisiana Municipal Association objected to the plan.
“This bill isn’t the locals against small business. They’re both going to be helped,” said Rep. Dodie Horton, a Haughton Republican.
Under the bill, Schroder would have to announce by July 1 when the business grant program will begin.
To be eligible, businesses would have to be located in Louisiana. They couldn’t have had more than 50 full-time workers as of March 1, before Louisiana saw its first confirmed case of the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus. They couldn’t be a subsidiary of or owned by a larger company with more than 50 full-time employees. And they would have to show an interruption in operations because of the virus.
Of the $300 million allocated to the program, $40 million would be set aside to assist minority-owned and women-owned businesses.
For the first 21 days, grants only would be available to businesses that didn’t receive other federal aid through the Paycheck Protection Program or through a U.S. Small Business Administration disaster loan and that didn’t receive business interruption insurance dollars.
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