Tennessee extends relief to more small businesses hurt by coronavirus

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee answers questions during a news conference Wednesday, July 1, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Tennessee is expanding its financial relief program for small businesses hurt by the coronavirus pandemic this spring.

Gov. Bill Lee said Friday the state will use another $83.5 million from the state's share of the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund to provide grants of up to $30,000 each for any small business, tourist attraction or farm-relate business that has suffered lost business and income due to the the COVID-19 virus.

To help more small businesses survive the economic downturn and government-imposed business closings caused by the pandemic, Lee said the state is extending its state assistance program to include businesses with less than $10 million in annual gross sales along with retail businesses which experienced a 25% reduction in sales in the month of April.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has placed enormous strain on businesses and industries of all types," said Gov. Lee. "We'll continue to distribute federal resources prudently to address the pressing needs of Tennessee businesses to get our economy back on track."

The Financial Stimulus Accountability Group agreed to set aside the extra funds for small business beyond the initial $200 million allotment for the businesses hurt by the pandemic in Tennessee. State officials estimate over 33,000 small businesses could be eligible for the latest round of assistance.

The extra aid, which will provide eligible businesses direct payments and not just loans, was announced as a new study shows that low-income and minority Tennesseans are suffering the most from the pandemic. A study released Friday by the nonpartisan Sycamore Institute said one in five Tennessee businesses operate in the most at-risk industries: restaurants and bars, sensitive retail and manufacturing, travel and transportation, personal services, and entertainment.

"Those businesses employed one in four private sector workers in our state, a population that earns 40% less than average and is more likely to be minority, young, and have less education," Bryce Tuggle, a policy analyst at the Sycamore Institute "COVID-related job cuts have hit black Tennesseans and the youngest workers disproportionately hard. The consequences of joblessness can be significant for financial and emotional well-being, and more industries will likely be affected the longer it takes to control the virus spread."

The state also is allocating $50 million for the Agriculture and Forestry Economic Relief fund to establish an economic support program for agricultural businesses and forestry businesses. The department will accept applications for funding between August 17 through August 31 to make grant awards the week of Sept. 14.

The Tennessee Department of Tourist Development will utilize $25 million of coronavirus assistance to the state's tourism industry, including $15 million designated for destination marketing organizations like the Chattanooga Tourism Co., in all 95 counties.

Lee said Tennessee also will allocate $7.5 million to two established workforce development programs: Reemployment Service and Eligibility Assessment Program Expansion and Career and Training Services, and $2 million to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development's Virtual American Jobs Center. These funds will provide reemployment services to a proposed 17,000 participants.

Tennessee is set to receive more than $25 billion in federal coronavirus aid for economic relief, COVID-19 response, health and social services, and education.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6430.