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Legislators Approve $48.5 Million in Grants For Tourism Industry

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LITTLE ROCK – The Legislative Council approved spending $48.5 million in federal relief money to fund a grant program that will help tourism-related businesses adversely affected by the pandemic.

The grants will be available to small businesses that hire up to 250 full-time employees.

The program is called the Business Interruption Grant Program for the Arkansas Service and Hospitality Industries. An individual business can qualify for a grant of up to $250,000. The Parks, Heritage and Tourism Department and the Department of Commerce will review grant applications.

Grants can be used to defray expenses caused by the need to mitigate covid-19, such as protective equipment, supplies needed to sterilize surfaces and plexiglass shields.

The grants also can be used for expenses caused by government order that interrupted business activity, whether it was a local government, the state or a federal mandate.

For example, a business that was forced to close may use the grants for rent or mortgage payments, franchise fees, insurance and payroll costs.

Grants may not be spent for certain expenses that include taxes, lost profits, entertainment or lobbying expenses, depreciation and severance pay.

The program will allocate 15 percent of the grants to businesses owned by minorities and women.

The application period is from November 16 and through November 25, with the goal of announcing recipients by late December.

Depending on the number of applicants, grants may be awarded on a prorated basis. In other words, applicants may not be awarded the entire amount for which they applied.

One factor that the review committee will consider is the difference in the sales tax that a business paid from March through September of last year, as compared with the same period in 2020.

The Legislative Council is the main committee of lawmakers that monitors state government operations during the interim between regular sessions.

At its most recent meeting, the Council considered a list of recommended expenditures from the CARES Act steering committee, a group of state officials appointed by the governor to review how best to spend $1.25 billion federal aid. The federal aid was made available after Congress approved the CARES Act in late March.

CARES stands for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

One of the larger expenditures approved was for $25 million to match federal dollars and pay unemployment insurance benefits to workers who have lost their jobs.

The Legislative Council also voted to use $4.24 million for rental assistance, as well as $5 million for suicide prevention and mental health treatment for veterans.

Also, about $5.5 million in relief funds will go to small-scale meat processing plants.

The purpose is to help smaller businesses while strengthening our capacity to withstand any further disruptions in the supply chain in the meat industry.

According to the state budget director, Arkansas now has about $81.6 million remaining from the original $1.25 billion the state received from the CARES Act.

The Council approved using $1.82 million for the Arkansas Hunger Relief Partnership.

Also, lawmakers approved using $5 million for social services in high poverty areas. The state Human Services Department will put the money in its Community Outreach Investment program.

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