State lawmakers discuss grant program for businesses, including bars

State lawmakers discuss grant program for businesses, including bars
State Capitol building in Louisiana. (Source: WVUE)

BATON ROUGE, La. (WVUE) - Inside the state capitol building State Treasurer John Schroder defended how a $275 million grant program he’s overseeing that was set up by the legislature is going. This comes after Governor John Bel Edwards recently urged lawmakers to use some of the program’s funds for other purposes.

“We’ll hit a hundred million dollars this week out the door,” said Schroder to members of the House Appropriations Committee.

The program is designed to help businesses impacted by the pandemic. Business owners can get up to a $15,000 grant through the program if they qualify; 40,000 applications have been received. But Schroeder’s office stopped taking applications last week and said the program has allocated all available funds based on the number of applications received, but that it would continue to process pending applications and award grants daily until the program has paid out all available funds.

“We estimate our obligation today to obligate more money than what is in the legislation now,” said Schroder. “We’re averaging between four to seven million dollars a day, just depends on the individual day. There are about 15,000 applications in the pipeline.”

Recently, Gov. Edwards requested lawmakers reallocate $175 million of the program’s funds to help shore up the state’s depleted unemployment trust fund, and also to help local governments and provide grants to businesses closed in Phases 2 and 3 of the state’s COVID-19 response, such as bars.

“We put out 7,100 checks. We’ve also denied another 8,000 to 9,000 applications,” said Schroder.

He said many applications are not filled out properly or required documents are not provided.

“You’re always going to have problems with communication and starting, it’s just the nature of it, you know, it’s not perfect. People don’t understand that I had to follow the law, you know, it’s five pages long because it’s ten points in law,” said Schroder.

Rep. Tony Bacala questioned Schroder about the process for paying eligible applicants.

“You have more applicants than you expect to be able to pay, at the end of the day, how do you determine, you know, who’s going to get paid if you have more applicants in the pipeline?” said Bacala.

“Money-wise it’s first-come, but it’s all dated, marked. As I’ve told some of your colleagues, there’s no moving them around. It’s numerical order,” said Schroder.

Still, the committee approved a bill to set aside $25 million of the Main Street Recovery Program funds for bars around the state.

Before the vote, Rep. C. Denise Marcelle raised concerns.

“How do we carve that out if we’re already over-budgeted for the people who’ve already applied?” Marcelle asked.

“He [Schroder] testified that there was a lot of applications that get denied and they have stopped accepting applications, that there is no guarantee that all of that, that every one of those applications are going to get accepted and make it all the way through the process,” said Rep. John Stefanski, author of the bill.

But Marcelle said money should be set aside to help landlords.

“What would you say to the landlords who were also hit? And do you know of any funds that the landlords have gotten? And the executive order is still in place that says you cannot evict someone during this period,” said Marcelle.

“Different than these bars, the money is still owed from a residential perspective, so just because you can’t kick somebody out, you’re owed that,” said Stefanski.

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