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Committee recommends $85M for state’s business grant program

by Michael R. Wickline | May 1, 2020 at 11:26 a.m.
FILE — Gov. Asa Hutchinson shows the slogan for the state’s plan to gradually reopen commerce in this April 29, 2020 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

The steering committee created by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to recommend the state’s best use of federal funds that Arkansas gets due to the covid-19 pandemic on Friday recommended providing $85 million more for the fledgling Arkansas Ready for Business program to provide grants to businesses.

The program will provide direct grants to companies for expenses associated with ensuring the health and safety of employees and patrons.

In a voice vote, the committee rejected a proposal from Sen. Will Bond, D-Little Rock, to provide $35 million more for the program and consider providing more next week.

The action came a day after Gov. Asa Hutchinson acknowledged that the program originally intended to provide $15 million in federal funds to businesses was prematurely rolled out on a state website late Wednesday afternoon without the required sign off from certain legislative leaders.

Hutchinson said he was surprised that in less than an hour more than 2,300 businesses applied for the grants, seeking an amount that would top $36 million.

Larry Walther, secretary of the state Department of Finance and Administration, said Friday he expects to seek the approval of co-chairs of the legislative council and its performance evaluation and expenditure review committee for the additional spending authority for the program today.

Mike Preston, secretary of the state Department of Commerce, said at least 75% of the total amount awarded would go to small businesses with fewer than 50 employees.


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