Gov. Evers announces up to $420M for small businesses affected by COVID pandemic

NOW: Gov. Evers announces up to $420M for small businesses affected by COVID pandemic

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Gov. Tony Evers rejected GOP plans to spend federal COVID-19 relief aid and instead announced he will invest $420 million towards small businesses. 

The effort, funded by the  American Rescue Plan Act, will award $5,000 grants to approximately 85,000 small businesses, according to the governor's office. Businesses who were already awarded grants under the CARES Act will be able to apply again through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and the Department of Revenue (DOR).

"Business owners are still filled with worry and are struggling to make ends meet, and this money belongs to them,": Evers said during a press conference in Wauwatosa.

Evers also vetoed a series of bills passed by Republicans last week that would have spent billions in federal relief aid despite warnings some of the proposals might not be allowed under federal guidelines. One of those proposals would have invested $200 million for small businesses, which Evers said is not enough.

“The Legislature’s proposal to spend just a small portion of our American Rescue Plan funds on small businesses simply won’t cut it for me,” said Evers. “Our main streets have been hit hard during this pandemic and we need to do everything we can to make sure they can bounce back.”

Republicans proposed spending $2.7 billion of the ARPA for property tax cuts for homeowners, small businesses, tourism, long-term care facilities, transportation and fixing lead service lines. They wanted to have a say in how the funds were spent, claiming it would increase transparency and accountability. 

“It’s not surprising, but it is disappointing the governor vetoed these bills, because he still hasn’t put forth a plan of his own on how to help Wisconsin with these relief funds,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester). “I’m glad he announced help for small businesses, but where is the rest of the money? Making vague promises in a press release is not a plan and Wisconsin deserves transparency in this decision-making process.”

Evers has not revealed all of his plans to spend the federal money but announced in addition to the small businesses grants, $50 million for the tourism industry, $300 million on roads and infrastructure and $500 geared towards pandemic response efforts.

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) said the governor "has, once again, rejected the opportunity to work with legislators on even a basic spending plan."

"The governor just sent a clear message to the people of Wisconsin that they will have little to no say in how their federal tax dollars are spent," LeMahieu said in a statement. 

GOP leaders have argued, years ago, the budget committee was allowed oversight on how to spend federal funding, but Evers claims that process takes too long to get money out the door. 

"All it takes is one member of the Joint Finance Committee to put their hands up and say 'I object' without any thought of what the objection is, and it delays, delays and delays," said Evers. "People know exactly how we spent that money in the past, it worked well and it helped keep our economy safe."

Details of the new grants will not be finalized until federal rules for ARPA funds are in place. States continue to await federal guidance before being able to provide complete program details or open applications, according to the governor's office. 

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