State officials are pushing out another huge wave of pandemic-relief cash to boost struggling small businesses, promote tourism, retrain unemployed workers and help arts and cultural groups reconnect with the public.
As soon as Monday, officials will begin taking online requests for grants from a pool of more than $60 million in federal COVID-19 aid, the latest installment in an historic infusion of money sent to Utah and other states under Congress’ $2.2 trillion CARES Act.
This latest cash, deployed by Utah lawmakers during a mid-June special session, will add to the nearly $6 billion in CARES Act relief already pumped into the state’s economy since March in the form of paycheck-protection loans to businesses, beefed-up unemployment benefits, rental assistance and other programs.
And like prior relief, these funds are likely to be snapped up in a matter of weeks.
“This money does have a little bit of a short fuse,” said Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, among a handful of top lawmakers overseeing the spending.
Major portion of the cash, leaders say, is aimed at rebuilding confidence that residents can safely resume shopping, entertainment and recreation though a series of free events, customer discounts, ad campaigns and other incentives over the next 12 months.
According to House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, large sums are also meant to “support the sectors of the economy that are struggling the most,” including retail, tourism and hospitality.
Here’s a quick sketch of the new relief:
The state will put $25 million toward a “Shop in Utah” program. It will be broken into grants of between $50,000 and $100,000 for businesses, on the condition that they offer some kind of a discount to customers worth at least half the grant amount before year’s end.
How much each business gets will be determined in part by how much money they’ve lost due to COVID-19, according to Dane Ishihara, economic analyst at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, which is managing the grant program.
Officials are directing three-quarters of the money to small businesses. They’ve also capped grant amounts, said Kori Ann Edwards, managing director of operations for GOED, “so we didn’t push out big, big chunks of money to a few.”
Businesses getting this cash will have to make it clear how they will offer customer discounts before the end of 2020.
Utah’s employers can also apply for grants to buy personal protective equipment for their workers and customers, such as masks, hand sanitizer and plexiglass shields.
This $5 million program is being called “Safe in Utah.” Its grants — roughly in amounts equivalent to $100 per worker — will also subsidize businesses for remodeling their workplaces and buying signs to promote social distancing, as well as fund new technology to adapt their business to new circumstances.
In recent weeks, Ishihara said GOED has “had a lot of interest” in this program, even before it has been launched.
“These funds will be taken fairly quickly,” he predicted.
If you’ve been thrown out of work, furloughed, left under-employed or have otherwise seen job disruptions the state is putting $9 million toward helping you get trained for a new job.
In what GOED is calling “Live & Work in Utah,” these grants will fund short-term worker training and certificate programs at Utah’s colleges and universities, paying for unemployed workers to learn new skills sought by major employers in growing industries.
Upward of 80,000 Utahns are thought to be currently unemployed, temporarily sidelined or dealing with reduced pay due to the pandemic.
“We realize that this [retraining] is very critical to the sustainability of our economy right now,” said Kimberlee Carlile, director of GOED’s Talent Ready Utah Center, which oversees a host of state apprenticeship and career-building programs.
Once workers apply, Carlile said, the state will decide which training is in most demand and which colleges and universities will provide it. The money will then assist workers with tuition and supplies, while also paying for additional faculty hires for programs not already being taught by existing instructors.
About $75,000 of this cash will also go into developing a new online dashboard, run by the state Department of Workforce Services, to link people out of work with job openings.
Arts and culture
A program dubbed “Create in Utah” will steer $9 million in grants to the state’s biggest cultural and artistic groups, zoos and botanical gardens that have been damaged financially by the virus and attempts to contain it.
Organizations with yearly budgets of over $5 million can apply to the state Division of Arts & Museums for grants of up to $1 million — in exchange for using at least half the cash to stage a public event sometime before July 1, 2021.
With a tight focus on helping Utah artists, the spending is “not only to support the struggling cultural sector, but also promote community engagement and tourism in the state,” said Katherine Potter, deputy director of the state Department of Heritage and Arts.
Those grants will be awarded by mid-August.
State officials have already deployed portions of an additional $12 million given to the Utah Office of Tourism to respond to the health emergency with strategic ad campaigns.
Some of that spending recently had to be pulled back due to a spike in coronavirus cases since Memorial Day. But state officials say that marketing on travel booking sites such as Expedia, Travelocity and TripAdvisor has already significantly boosted hotel searches for Utah destinations of late.
Accompanying all this spending are major publicity efforts planned to reach people, cultural groups and businesses that need it most.
On top of those efforts, Utah is devoting $1 million to a public-information campaign called “Health in Utah,” promoting the latest guidelines from health departments and the Centers for Disease Control for protecting against COVID-19 and other medical guidance.