Ready for Business grant program halted after miscue; gyms and fitness centers may reopen May 4

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 1,538 views 

A $15 million program funded with federal dollars designed to help small businesses in Arkansas reopen has been temporarily halted to update the application and gain legislative approval, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday (April 30).

Gov. Hutchinson on Wednesday unveiled the Arkansas Ready for Business grant program, to be administered by the Arkansas Department of Commerce, for the purpose of helping a wide variety of businesses that may be allowed to reopen in the coming weeks and months. The $15 million grant fund is capped at $100,000 per grant and is open to all business sectors. Money for the program came from what Arkansas was allocated from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act approved by Congress to provide aid to individuals, businesses and state and local governments in response to the pandemic.

Within an hour of applications being accepted at 5 p.m. Wednesday on the Arkansas Economic Development Commission website, it was shut down because it had not been approved by the Arkansas Legislative Council. Gov. Hutchinson said Thursday during his daily COVID-19 press conference the program was launched too early because of a communication issue, and he took responsibility for the error.

However, before web applications were stopped, more than 2,300 applications were received within an hour that totaled $36 million if all were approved. Gov. Hutchinson said 92% of applications were from businesses with fewer than 50 employees, and 59% with fewer than 10 employees. He said he was “delighted” that 92% “came from the very small business category.”

The governor said his administration will work with the Legislature to determine how much money, if any, to add to the fund, and if any application changes are needed.

“We were educated by that response. And now what we have to do is to work with the Legislature to see are we going to increase the funding for this,” the governor said. “I think it (response data) shows that it’s really going to the people that we targeted, which was primarily those that are struggling, that have had their businesses impacted, the small business people. And that’s who responded to it.”

Gov. Hutchinson said he hopes program applications can begin again “early next week.”

The governor also announced a May 4 date for the phased in reopening of gyms and fitness centers.

Following are the guidelines issued by the Arkansas Department of Health for gyms and fitness centers seeking to reopen.
• Screening for staff and visitors, with no entry for recent travelers to New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, New Orleans and overseas; no entry for anyone with fever and other symptoms or recent contact with COVID-19 patients; and no entry to those with compromised immune systems or a chronic disease.
• Temperature check for staff.
• Face covering for staff and visitors except when actively exercising.
• No pools, spas or saunas.
• Hand sanitizer must be available.
• Equipment sanitized after use.
• 12-foot distancing during workouts, training or classes.
• No personal contact.

Gov. Hutchinson said it will be mid- to late-May before guidance is issued on when teen and youth sports may begin.

Known COVID-19 cases in Arkansas totaled 3,255 as of Thursday, up from 3,192 on Wednesday. Of the total cases, 1,888 are active cases. The number of deaths rose from 59 to 61. The number of COVID patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 95 on Thursday, up from 93 on Wednesday. Of the COVID-19 patients, 23 were on ventilators, up from 18 on Wednesday.

As of Thursday at noon there were 1,046,022 U.S. cases and 61,288 deaths. Globally, there were 3,231,701 cases and 229,447 deaths.