Legislators Add $40M to ‘Ready for Business’ Grant

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Leaders of the Arkansas Legislative Council on Sunday approved an additional $40 million for the “Arkansas Ready for Business” grant program, a state-administered fund to help small businesses reopen as Arkansas rolls back COVID-19 restrictions.

The program’s website is set to go live and take applications Tuesday and Wednesday, Senate President Jim Hendren told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The council will meet later in the week to analyze any need for more money, House Speaker Matthew Shepherd told the newspaper.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson last week said that the program launched “prematurely” on Wednesday, and many would-be applicants were locked out of the fund when the amount of requests surpassed the program’s original $15 million limit.

The program now contains $55 million. Under the new guidelines, at least 15% of the funds’ recipients must be women- and minority-owned businesses as defined by Arkansas statute, and at least 75% of the total funds will go to businesses with 50 employees or less.

More: See details of the new “Arkansas Ready for Business” grant program here.

On Friday, the state Department of Commerce submitted a new version of the program to the state’s CARES Act Steering Committee, which determines how Arkansas will spend its $1.25 billion share of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

The department requested an additional $85 million from the CARES Act allocation, along with new guidelines about what businesses could receive it. The steering committee approved the request, though some legislators advocated for a smaller amount and the right to revisit the program’s funding depending on demand.

Legislators debated the issue into the weekend, and on Sunday, co-chairs of the Arkansas Legislative Council, who had ultimate oversight, approved $40 million, to bring the fund’s total to $55 million.