Emergency grants for small businesses clear first round

A bill that would offer financial assistance to struggling small businesses during certain qualifying events advanced from general file March 9.

Sen. Anna Wishart
Sen. Anna Wishart

LB598, as introduced in 2021 by Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart, would appropriate $20 million in fiscal year 2021-22 for grants to be distributed by the state Department of Economic Development to eligible businesses in the event of a natural disaster, pandemic or other emergency declared by the governor.

To qualify for a grant under the bill, a business must be physically located in Nebraska and have annual revenue of less than $1 million. An eligible business also must demonstrate a significant loss of gross revenue — at least 50 percent from the amount of gross revenue received over the same period in the prior year.

Grants would be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis while funds remain. Individual business awards would be no more than $12,000.

A Business and Labor Committee amendment, adopted 40-0, would remove the $20 million allocation of funds for the grant program in FY2021-22.

Wishart said DED and the governor created and deployed a stabilization program during the pandemic to get federal relief dollars to small businesses. LB598 would codify that program in state law for subsequent emergencies, she said, but would leave it up to future legislatures to provide the funding.

Many small businesses experienced revenue losses of over 50 percent at the start of the current pandemic, Wishart said. When flooding, wildfires or another pandemic hit in the future — when the Legislature may not be in session — the state needs a mechanism to provide immediate relief, she said.

“Main street businesses in Nebraska are vital for our economic vitality. We must have a system in place to help them recover when our state experiences natural disasters or pandemics,” Wishart said. “This grant program is one necessary step in ensuring our state helps small businesses survive.”

Blair Sen. Ben Hansen spoke in support of LB598. The bill sets up a framework that could help Nebraska residents in case of a future emergency, such as a flood, he said.

Elkhorn Sen. Lou Ann Linehan expressed concern that the bill could tie the hands of future administrations rather than facilitate the quick distribution of emergency funds.

“Why — if we were able to do all these things during the pandemic and the flooding — why do we need to put something in statute?” Linehan said.

The bill advanced to select file 32-0.

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