Emergency small business grant bill amended, advanced

A bill that would offer financial assistance to struggling small businesses during certain qualifying events was amended and advanced from select file April 11.

Sen. Anna Wishart
Sen. Anna Wishart

LB598, introduced in 2021 by Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart, would codify an existing pandemic relief grant program within the state Department of Economic Development under the Business Innovation Act and make it available in the future 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 over a period of one month or more 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.

Wishart offered an amendment on select file to add provisions of her LB1163, which would increase a series of annual caps under the Business Innovation Act.

The amendment would increase from $2 million to $3 million the microloan program cap and from $4 million to $6 million for the following grant programs:
• small business planning;
• financial assistance to small businesses;
• innovation in value-added agriculture; and
• financial assistance to businesses that use the facilities of a public or private college in Nebraska for applied research and development of new products or use intellectual property generated at a public or private college or university in Nebraska.

Wishart said the amendment, adopted 44-0, would allow the program to fund an additional 50 startups this year.

Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson spoke in support of the underlying bill, saying it has the potential to provide assistance to businesses owners who are hard hit in an emergency situation like the pandemic.

“There are a lot of small businesses across rural Nebraska that either closed down completely and will never return or were severely damaged by the coronavirus and the shutdowns,” he said.

Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne offered an amendment to include provisions of his LB1116, which would increase from $4 million to $5 million the annual cap under the Business Innovation Act for the financial assistance program for creating prototypes.

Under current law, businesses that qualify for funding under the program also must obtain matching nonstate funds equal to 50 percent of the state funds requested. The amendment would reduce the matching amount to 25 percent for businesses in an economic redevelopment area, defined as one in which the average rate of unemployment is at least 150 percent of the state average and the average poverty rate is 20 percent or more for the area’s federal census tract.

Wayne said the amendment would ensure that the program treats grant applicants the same in both urban and rural areas of the state by harmonizing the matching fund requirement.

Following adoption of the Wayne amendment on a 42-0 vote, lawmakers advanced LB598 to final reading by voice vote.

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