Relief for small businesses shaping up to be part of special session

In the final days of the 2020 regular legislative session, the House and Senate were both working on proposals to make funds available for small businesses impacted by the economic shutdown that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, as the session came into its final hours, the two chambers’ bill authors and caucus leaders, along with the Walz administration, were not able to come to an agreement on the size and parameters of the project.

Since session ended, the House and Senate have continued to work on coming to some consensus on how best to support small employers across the state. On Wednesday, we got our first glimpse of what the emerging agreement, if there is one to be had, might look like. In a hearing before the House Jobs and Economic Development Committee, Rep. Zack Stephenson (DFL-Coon Rapids) presented a proposal to create a $60 million small business grant program. The proposal would allocate $30 million to the six Initiative Foundations in Greater Minnesota and $30 million to nonprofits serving the Twin Cities market.

Under the House proposal, funds will be distributed via a lottery system based on applicants who meet the program’s criteria. To qualify, a business must be in Minnesota, owned by a Minnesota resident, employ 50 or fewer full-time employees, and can demonstrate economic hardship due to the pandemic. Priority will be given to business that were restricted from operating by executive order on May 18, such that the business could not operate at least at 51% of normal capacity.

Of the appropriation, $18 million must be awarded to businesses that employ six or fewer full-time workers, and $15 million must be awarded to businesses majority-owned by minorities or women.

During the hearing it was alluded that there was agreement with the Senate regarding this proposal. It wasn’t clear if the agreement was on the particular language presented or if the agreement was for $60 million in some sort of small business support bill, but it looks promising that some sort of small business support bill will be included in the upcoming special session.