By Brice Wallace

Five programs were added and one altered during the recent legislative special session in an attempt to prime Utah’s economic pump and get dollars flowing despite the coronavirus.

HB5010, approved during the special session June 18-19, is designed to use federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security (CARES) Act funds and focus on Utah’s economic recovery. The Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) was assigned the task of implementing and managing the programs.

“These initiatives will help boost Utah’s economy and help keep Utahns safe,” said Val Hale, GOED’s executive director. “We’re grateful for the federal CARES Act funds and that the Legislature has entrusted us with administering these important programs. We will use these funds most efficiently and effectively. We hope that companies and individuals that qualify will take advantage of these pandemic recovery initiatives.”

The tweaked program is the COVID-19 Commercial Rental Assistance Program, or ComRent, originally created through SB3006. ComRent features $40 million in commercial property rental assistance. The GOED-administered grants are designed to help Utah small businesses — including nonprofits, sole proprietors, independent contractors and self-employed persons — that have lost revenue due to measures taken to minimize the public’s exposure to COVID-19.

But ComRent has had little participation. As of June 22, only 2,897 applications were started, only 1,588 full applications were submitted and only $3 million was used. The average check was $2,702. The sectors with the most requests are retail, food and beverage, and healthcare.

Among the program changes approved during the special session is a restructuring of revenue loss percentage adjustments. Those with a revenue loss of 30 percent to 44.9 percent are able to get up to 50 percent of the rent amount awarded per month. Those with a 45 percent revenue loss or more may get up to 100 percent of the rent amount awarded per month.

The new legislation also removed the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) award adjustment; extended from a single month’s rent to two month’s rent; raised the maximum award from $10,000 to $15,000; increased to $30,000 and $5,000 per location the maximum award for entities with multiple locations; adjusted the small-business definition from 100 employees maximum to 100 full-time employees; and removed unnecessary documentation requirements.

Companies that already have applied do not need to re-apply for the ComRent grant; they will automatically be reconsidered. Those qualifying for additional grant funds will see checks mailed beginning July 7.

Details about the program are at utahgoed.info/comrent.

Programs established during the special session are:

• The COVID-19 Impacted Businesses Grant Program. Known as the “Shop in Utah” grant, the $25 million initiative provides funds to businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic. To qualify, businesses must offer a discount or other offer with an estimated value to consumers of at least 50 percent of the grant amount. GOED must award at least 75 percent of grant funds to Utah small businesses — those with 250 or fewer full-time employees.

• Tourism COVID-19 Recovery. The Utah Office of Tourism, part of GOED, will use $12 million to respond to the health emergency through state and regional marketing to increase tourism to the state’s national parks and surrounding communities. The tourism office is to address transportation to and within the state’s national parks to facilitate visitor access, and other activities intended to stimulate tourism throughout the state.

• The COVID-19 Displaced Worker Grant Program. Dubbed “Learn In Utah,” the $9 million initiative will provide training for workers displaced due to COVID-19 by funding GOED’s Utah Works program within Talent Ready Utah. The initiative includes support for the Utah System of Higher Education’s Custom Fit program and several other workforce training programs to provide education and training to displaced workers. As part of this initiative, the Department of Workforce Services will create a dashboard to identify unemployment and job opening trends to match workers with job opportunities.

• The COVID-19 PPE Support Grant Program. Called “Safe In Utah,” the $5 million initiative will provide grants to businesses to improve workplace safety for workers and customers during the pandemic through measures such as PPE purchases, workplace redesigns, signage and technology solutions that allow for distance working.

The grants are capped at either $100 per full-time-equivalent employee or the actual expenses a company incurs in implementing the health and safety measures, whichever is lower. At least 75 percent of grant funds will go to small businesses.

• The COVID-19 Outreach and Education Program. Known as “Healthy in Utah,” the $1 million initiative will fund a public information campaign to encourage healthy activity during the pandemic, such as following current Centers for Disease Control, state and local health guidelines, and not forgoing other preventive or urgent medical care.

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