ST. PAUL — State lawmakers on Thursday, June 11, were asked whether they would extend a $30 million-lifeline meant for struggling small business owners in greater Minnesota to those who live just beyond state borders.
Members of the Minnesota Senate Committee on Jobs, Growth, Finance and Policy did not settle on an answer when they met virtually to discuss amendments to a bill for a coronavirus relief grant program. The program, which the Senate approved in May but the House left untouched before the regular lawmaking session ended, is one of several proposals up for consideration in what looks to be a frenetic special session.
The $30 million earmarked for greater Minnesota makes up half of the money laid out for the relief program in Senate Bill 4481, with the other half going toward businesses in the Twin Cities metro area. Overseeing funds meant for less urban areas would be the Minnesota Initiative Foundations, the philanthropic network with six regional footholds in the state.
Grants of up to $10,000 would be distributed to applying business through a lottery system. Eligibility factors for the program mirror those of the state Department of Employment and Economic Development's Small Business Emergency Loans, which were available as part of an earlier coronavirus relief measure.
But a requirement for loan applicants to be permanent Minnesota residents inadvertently excluded those who own businesses in Minnesota but who live just beyond its borders, according to Southwest Initiative Foundation Vice President Scott Marquardt. That's what happened with the loan program, he told senators Thursday. Keeping the same requirement for the grant program might cut them off from further aid, he said.
"We had a number of critical businesses in our border towns and our border counties that may have been owned by somebody across the state lines," Marquardt said.
It remains to be seen whether lawmakers will oblige the request for out-of-state business owners to enter the lottery. Senators expressed mixed feelings about the proposal but agreed to return to it, with some saying they personally know of business owners in their districts who live out of state for one reason or another.
Sen. Paul Anderson, chief author of the bill, however, said he was unsure of amending it in that way.
Demand for relief already greatly exceeds what the state can supply, he said, and the bill will not be able to save every struggling business even in its current form. That's despite the fact that retroactive amendments to the bill discussed Thursday include roughly $1 million in additional funding for both metro area and greater Minnesota small businesses.
The source of the funding, however, remains the same: the state coronavirus relief fund.
"It's something we can certainly talk about," Anderson, R-Plymouth, said, but the intent of the program is for "Minnesotans, Minnesota residences, Minnesota businesses receive the opportunity to get into this pool."