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Sisolak signs bill funneling $50M to business grant fund

February 12, 2021 GMT

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — A pandemic relief fund for small businesses in Nevada will double in size from $51 million to $101 million after Gov. Steve Sisolak signed legislation Friday to infuse the fund with leftover federal relief dollars.

The bill was the first signed into law in the 2021 legislative session. It comes weeks after Sisolak and Treasurer Zach Conine implored state lawmakers to pass legislation funding the program soon after they reconvened Feb. 1. The state Assembly and Senate unanimously passed one on Wednesday and Thursday, sending it back to the governor only four days after it was first introduced in draft format.

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“More than 9,000 small businesses that are actually operating in here in Nevada and employing Nevadans will benefit from these $10,000 grants. Those are doors that can stay open and jobs that can be saved,” said Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas.

The Pandemic Emergency Technical Support fund, referred to as its acronym “PETS,” has provided grants of up to $10,000 each to roughly 4,600 small businesses that applied last year seeking assistance for expenses like payroll, rent and utilities. With the extra cash, it will be able to approve and send money out to double the number of small businesses, including day care facilities, arts organizations and pizza parlors.

Almost 14,000 businesses applied after applications opened in October, nearly three times as many as the state had the funding to provide grants. Adding funding to the program was a priority that Sisolak laid out in his budget proposal and State of the State Address. The governor has said he hopes the funds will prevent permanent business closures that could make it more difficult for Nevada to recover once the pandemic subsides.

The bill directs the state to use leftover federal funds passed as part of last year’s coronavirus relief package that were put back into the state’s general fund. The bill signed by the U.S. Congress and then-President Donald Trump stipulated they be spent by the end of the budget year on May 31.

Many Republican lawmakers are generally skeptical of the executive power that Sisolak has exercised throughout the pandemic and averse to him dictating an agenda to the Legislature. But because of the ticking clock, they did not object to exempting the bill from legislative rules and procedures, which typically require public committee hearings and further scrutiny.

““There is an end date on this, and we do not want our small businesses or nonprofits waiting any longer because we may lose these funds.” Assembly Minority Leader Robin Titus, R-Wellington, said in a hearing Wednesday.

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Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.