Emergency grants proposed for small businesses

Members of the Business and Labor Committee heard testimony Feb. 8 on a bill that would offer financial assistance to struggling small businesses during certain qualifying events.

Sen. Anna Wishart
Sen. Anna Wishart

LB598, sponsored 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.

There are small Nebraska businesses that will not survive unless they receive some level of cash relief during a devastating emergency in their community, Wishart said.

“This way, when we as a state encounter flooding, wildfires or a future pandemic and our legislature is out of session, we have a mechanism already in place at the state level to provide immediate relief,” she said.

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.

Kristen Hassebrook, supported the bill on behalf of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce. She said service-sector small businesses in particular have been hurt by the pandemic.

“Vaccines are on the way, yet some businesses have not reopened, communities and families continue to struggle and, as much as possible, we must continue to respond to their calls for help,” Hassebrook said. “This is perfectly tailored to help small businesses with a cap on gross revenue and will help those that are most in need.”

Also supporting the bill was Katherine White, representing the Lincoln Independent Business Association. Many small businesses have struggled during the pandemic, she said, due to restrictions placed on them that were outside of their control.

“While LB598 would cost the state $20 million, this grant program could be the difference between fighting to keep the doors open another month or having to shut down for good,” White said. “Supporting our small and local businesses is essential as we look to restimulate our local economy, while also making sure we can continue to provide jobs and ensure our unemployment rate stays the lowest in the nation.”

No one testified in opposition to LB598 and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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