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Committee advances bill establishing grant, loan programs ahead of special session

CHEYENNE – With the end of the financial turbulence caused by the COVID-19 pandemic nowhere in sight, Wyoming business owners and their employees could soon gain a boost.

When the Wyoming Legislature meets in a mixed format for its special session starting Friday, lawmakers will consider at least four bills. One of those, which was largely crafted last week by the Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee, aims to help businesses through state-run programs that resemble the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

The legislation, advanced with amendments by the committee Monday, would initially use up to $275 million of Wyoming’s $1.25 billion share in the federal coronavirus relief bill. That money would set up three programs run through the Wyoming Business Council that would expire at the end of this year.

The first, known as the Wyoming Business Interruption Stipend Program, would have an initial pot of $50 million, and applications would be open to independent, Wyoming-based businesses with 50 employees or less.

The amended bill also gives priority for the grants, which range from $15,000 to $50,000, to businesses that missed out on any federal relief.

The second part of the bill would allocate $175 million to a loan program open to Wyoming-based businesses with 100 employees or less. Under that program, loans would be capped at $300,000 per business. The term of the loan would be 10 years, with no payment due in the first two years after distribution.

During the committee’s meeting last week, the program was nearly amended into a grant-based one like the other two in the bill, but lawmakers struck down the proposal by a 7-6 vote.

Instead, on Monday, they adopted an amendment requiring the Wyoming Business Council to review all outstanding loans given in the program for possible forgiveness by the end of the year.

The third program in the bill would establish another grant program to reimburse businesses for health-related expenses, such as personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, caused by the pandemic. Individual reimbursements under that program would be capped at $500,000.

The funding for all three programs could vary slightly, as the bill allows for a 25% flex authority for the governor’s office to move between the programs.

After amending the bill extensively Thursday, lawmakers on the committee unanimously approved it with little debate Monday. The legislation is the fourth bill certain to be considered during the special session starting Friday.

The other bills outline additional uses of the federal funding, such as for ailing health care facilities, and establish a wide range of programs, such as one to help landlords avoid evictions and another expanding the state’s workers’ compensation program to those who contract COVID-19.

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